Titles notwithstanding, Jeremy Saulnier's movies are mostly crimson. The writer/director, who first turned heads with Blue Ruin and returns with Green Room, delights in high-body-count, zero-sum bloodletting.
Almost every single one of his characters ends up as either victim or villain — sometimes both. Art-house violence is rarely aestheticized in such arresting, ghoulish fashion as it is in these two films, both of which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Blue Ruin was a mid-Atlantic revenge fantasy that ultimately amounted to less than the sum of its parts, but Saulnier learns from his mistakes in Green Room.
The gig economy is taken to its brutal extreme here, with a story centered on an ailing punk band whom we first meet siphoning gas for their van. The Ain't Rights don't have a social-media presence or more than a few bucks to their name, but they are thinking of recording a new 7-inch if and when they can afford it. After the latest show on their makeshift tour falls through, the quartet decides to take another gig in Seaside, Oregon, despite it being "mostly boots and braces down there" — code for skinheads.
This is an occupational hazard for any low-rent punk band, it seems, and so they're undeterred; still, poking the hornet's nest by playing the Dead Kennedys' "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" doesn't exactly endear them to the swastika-heavy audience. Which is important, because moments after the Ain't Rights finish their set and intend to go their merry way, Pat (Anton Yelchin) wanders back into the green room to retrieve his bandmate's cellphone and sees something he shouldn't. Neo-Nazis apparently don't take kindly to witnesses, and within minutes Green Room has transformed into a close-quarters hostage situation.
On the other side of the door is Patrick Stewart, as this bunker's silver-tongued owner, and his small army of jackbooted thugs, the most elite of whom wear red shoelaces. That tense setup gives way to genre set-pieces that might actually take your breath away, namely a brief power outage during a standoff: The lights go out as one person in the room keeps a gun pointed at another and then, seconds later, someone thinks to light a cigarette. Its faint glow is the only source of light in a room full of panicked punks and one very large skinhead. Amber, a bystander-turned-belligerent played by Imogen Poots, is responsible for the bright idea.
As she did in Knight of Cups, Poots proves a magnetic presence here, her millennial moodiness imbuing the role with a strange kind of pathos. She's traumatized by what she's seen, but also angrier than anyone in the Ain't Rights — the crime in question actually concerns her. She pairs well with Yelchin, whose desperate bassist has the resourcefulness of a DIY stalwart with his back against a wall. Everything is a weapon in Green Room, from box-cutters and fluorescent lights to fire extinguishers and well-trained Rottweilers, but the only ones with a fighting chance of making it out of this makeshift battlefield alive are those armed with their wits.
So for all its blood spatter and gore, Green Room is ultimately as cerebral as it is visceral. Saulnier doesn't allow for any kind of glory or heroism, just hook-or-crook survivalism. Yelchin, after abandoning a pep talk while the band divvies up weaponry, politely declines to take one for himself before delivering what must be the film's most realistic line: "Nah, I'm just gonna run."
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Lagoon Cinema, now playing
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