by Ed Travis
In a single, early moment of sublimity, writer/director Jeremy Saulnier sets Green Room apart and gives an indication of just how spectacular his neo-Nazi siege film is going to be. As our young protagonists, a touring punk band far from home, play a hastily arranged set to an audience of young neo-Nazis, their own music drops out, slow motion kicks in, and a mosh pit filled with young, impressionable, hate-filled neo-Nazis becomes a pure moment of musical solidarity that instantly humanizes the extremists and gives insight into the meaning of live music and the bonds it creates. For a fleeting moment, the music is all that matters, and the world all these characters live in snaps into focus.
Then it all goes to shit. Spectacularly.
Green Room is an uncompromising siege film which, aside from that easy descriptor, defies expectation at every turn and feels like something audiences have truly never seen before. When a band member (Anton Yelchin) witnesses something they were not meant to see, they become captives in an escalating and unfolding situation in which, remarkably, most everyone acts like real humans and make lots of smart, logical decisions to secure their position on either side of the conflict. Much like Saulnier’s Blue Ruin, a revenge movie populated with characters who would absolutely never be in a revenge movie, our touring band mates are just that. They’re starving artists, living the vagabond dream playing shows just to keep their van moving to the next town. And if they have to siphon a little gas along the way, they’ll do it. These aren’t soldiers or cops or cowboys, as are so many siege film subjects. But unfortunately for them, their antagonists fancy themselves an army, and have the home turf advantage, not to mention a calm, cool general whose menacing presence is felt throughout the film, even if his screentime is surprisingly minimal. That general is played by none other than Sir Patrick Stewart, demonstrating his range and his commitment to a part here gloriously. He’s tactical, calculated, and utterly menacing. And while it is likely that he truly believes in the “movement” he leads with an iron fist, it is clear that good old fashioned American greed is what drives his callous approach to solving this latest problem.
Not since The Raid screened at South By Southwest a few years back has a screening audience been so riveted by the picture they were watching that collective gasps rose as if on queue from the director himself some half a dozen times. The harrowing thrills of Green Room had my own heart beating out of control for almost an hour of screen time. The tension is masterful, the conclusion of this story never once feeling set. Anything could happen, and not everyone will make it out alive. But in the meantime, real human beings on both sides of the conflict will display cold, human resourcefulness and Saulnier finds moment after moment of humanity through dialog and plotting that flesh out the siege tropes and make Green Room as harrowing as any thriller has been in decades.
Almost certainly the movie to beat at Fantastic Fest 2015, Green Room announces the arrival of Saulnier as a major talent, surpassing his already considerable achievements with Blue Ruin on almost every level from scope to craft to coaching actors into excellent performances. Green Room is a master class in tension with near perfect pacing and countless moments of authenticity and humanity spread throughout. While not for the faint of heart, Green Room has the potential to become a wide-audience hit and deservedly so.
Thrillers rarely elicit such words as “sublime”, or “masterful” from critics these days, with the landscape often feeling as though there is nothing new under the sun. Jeremy Saulnier’s The Green Room breathes new life into the thriller genre and leaves audiences breathless, white-knuckled, and desperate to see what he comes up with next.
And I’m Out.