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With his 2013 feature Blue Ruin, director Jeremy Saulnier gained international attention. The low-budget film demonstrated a deep understanding of genre conventions and asked interesting questions about the morality of vigilante justice: a revenge thriller for people who do not like revenge thrillers. Now he is back with Green Room – a bigger, bolder, bloodier movie than its predecessor. ‘Green’, a traditional single-location siege movie, is also much more straightforward than ‘Blue’.
The Ain’t Rights (Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Callum Turner and Joe Cole) are a young punk band who end up at the wrong place at the worst time. They drink and sing their way across the land in a crappy tour van by playing lunchtime gigs and stealing gas. This is when they end up in a remote Oregon punk club, where they have been booked for the matinee performance. What they did not know: the venue’s walls are covered with swastikas and the clientele are skinheads.
The band reacts to the guaranteed animosity in true punk fashion by opening the show with a cover of the Dead Kennedys’ 1981 single “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” (the title says it all really). After the concert, things take a turn from aggressive tension to downright dangerous. Upon their return to the dressing room, they find a dead girl with a knife in her eye. Now the Ain’t Rights and the victim’s friend (Imogen Poots), barraged in the windowless green room, are witnesses in need of silencing. Time for Patrick Stewart, who plays the club’s owner, to arrive and take care of the problem. Unsurprisingly, violence ensues.
The thing I like most about Jeremy Saulnier’s films are the imperfect characters. They make mistakes and suffer from the (sometimes fatal) consequences. These punks are not gun-wielding killing machines; they are somewhat naive children who do not really know what they are doing. The majority of the neo-nazis are not the sharpest tools in the box either, although they have no qualms about using sharp tools. As a result, the violence is harsh, unpredictable and often funny. Saulnier’s dark, Coen-esque sense of humor works very well. The mixture of horror/thriller and comedic elements strikes a similar tone to the films of Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest) or David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows.
I was also pleased to see that Saulnier, who was involved in Washington D.C.’s early 90s hardcore scene, gets punk right. This does not only apply to the excellent soundtrack. Green Room is by no means a punk film in terms of style or theme, but the conflicts and contradictions that shape the subculture are there. The presence of right (or left) wing extremists has always caused anxiety within a movement struggling to define itself. We also get a glimpse of the superficiality and pretension of punk: the Ain’t Rights are quick to admit their secret love for Simon & Garfunkel or Prince when they think they are going to die.
Green Room may not be quite as intelligent or subversive as Blue Ruin, but it delivers on nearly every other level. It is a simple and effective piece of entertainment. And it stars Professor Charles Xavier as an ageing neo-nazi. His American accent may be uneven, but this is worth the price of admission alone.