Film Review: Green RoomJeremy Saulnier’s wickedly entertaining follow-up to 'Blue Ruin' makes a big impression by staying small.
If the widely acclaimed revenge drama Blue Ruin felt like director Jeremy Saulnier’s extended homage to the Coen Brothers, his latest film, Green Room, is John Carpenter all the way. Specifically, it’s a love letter to Carpenter’s sophomore feature, 1976’s Assault on Precinct 13, a siege picture in which a small group of cops battle a veritable battalion of crooks in a recently shuttered police precinct. Made for a mere pittance, Assault remains a classic of ’70s grindhouse cinema, a movie that uses its limited setting to enormous advantage. Green Room is very much made in the same spirit, even if it boasts a slightly higher budget and more prominent actors, among them Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots and Star Trek’s own Patrick Stewart. (Not to slight Assault’s most excellent star, Austin Stoker.) You might call it Assault on a Skinhead Heavy Metal Club, except that Green Room is a much more evocative title.
In place of police officers, the besieged parties in Green Room are the youthful members of the struggling punk-rock band The Ain’t Rights, who are barely living hand-to-mouth during the Pacific Northwest leg of their self-funded American tour. Their near-destitute circumstances are the main reason they agree to take a gig at a backwoods metal club run by virulently racist—and easily provoked—white supremacists. While they get on and off the stage in one piece, the trouble begins when the bassist, Pat (Yelchin), walks into the green room and witnesses a shocking tableau: a woman’s lifeless body on the floor, her mountainous killer standing nearby and her hysterical best friend (Poots) screaming bloody murder. Since a hasty exit is now out of the question, Pat and his bandmates—including Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole) and Tiger (Callum Turner)—barricade themselves inside the room, while the skinhead army assemble outside, awaiting the arrival of their general, Darcy (Stewart).
Casting Stewart is a creative coup for Saulnier, and not just because of the star power the erstwhile Professor X brings to this small-scale thriller. In a chamber-room thriller, the onus is always on the filmmaker to invent plausible ways for the characters to remains in that confined space. The British thespian is Green Room’s ace in the hole, his genteel demeanor believably, if only temporarily, defusing this powder keg of a standoff, keeping the movie from setting off its fireworks too early. Darcy’s ability to sound reasonable and even mild-mannered is a tactic that keeps changing the battlefield in exciting and unpredictable ways, as The Ain’t Rights mount several attack-and-retreat campaigns, leaving casualties behind each time. In fact, the only time the movie’s otherwise relentless pace goes a little slack is in the final act when the scope of this skirmish ventures outside the club. It’s only natural that Green Room would need to breathe a little fresh air at some point in the narrative, but that atmosphere proves less invigorating than the dark, dank confines of Darcy’s haven for American Nazis.
The other building block of Green Room that gives the film its Carpenter-esque slant is Saulnier’s decision to employ practical gore effects rather than extensive digital manipulation. This pays off in scenes of spectacular bloodletting that will trigger flashbacks to the “chomping chest” sequence in The Thing and Michael Myers’ knife-handling skills in Halloween. In its best moments—most notably a scene where an attack dog rips out a victim’s throat in extreme close-up—Green Room’s grindhouse gruesomeness hits that sweet spot between cartoonish and gag-inducing. Saulnier may be covering a John Carpenter original, but he brings his own punk-rock spirit to the proceedings.
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