By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
From Rio Bravo to You’re Next, “siege” flicks have kept movie audiences tense in their seats for decades and generations. Even though the basic premise is not original, many filmmakers have managed to take it, put their own creative spins on the concept, and turn it into cinematic gold. Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin) takes a turn and has made a punk rock Rio Bravo, that definitely makes an impact on cinema. Green Room is exceptionally tense and viscerally disturbing in all of the right ways. It is a horror-thriller that would make director John Carpenter (Assault on Precinct 13) proud.
The Ain’t Rights are young punk rock band touring in their old, beat-up van seeking out gigs wherever they can. Band members Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole), and Tiger (Callum Turner) have run low on cash and need to siphon gas from other vehicles just to keep traveling. Desperate for work, the young and somewhat naive musicians reluctantly accept a last minute gig at a dive in Portland. Their show goes off without a hitch, but things get ugly when The Ain’t Rights witness a murder backstage. The club’s management, who wants to keep a tight lid on the situation, locks up the band and calls in the owner Darcy (Patrick Stewart). The owner and club employees plot to cover up the murder which involves a plan to eliminate their witnesses.
Saulnier follows up Blue Ruin with another incredible and intense film that will leave audiences slack-jawed and in awe. The writer/director takes his brand of grim verisimilitude to a taut siege story, and the results are powerful. Saulnier, cinematographer Sean Porter, editor Julia Bloch, and composers Brooke and Will Blair meld their talents together to deliver a dark sinister mood and build up the palpable tension to pull off this movie beautifully. Of course audiences have seen movies of this variety prior to this one, but the sheer artistry and craftsmanship that this film displays is undeniable.
Saulnier develops his story, characters and accomplishes quite a bit in its 90 minute run time. I suppose it is appropriate that a movie about punk rockers be efficiently fast, hard and in everyone’s faces. I can definitely see the influence of The Ramones and other economical punk acts that do so much with so little in a short amount of time. If Saulnier were a punk rocker, Green Room would be his two-minute number.
As far as the cast is concerned, I have nothing, but praise for the actors who portray The Ain’t Rights, their antagonists, and their allies. As Pat, the de facto leader of the group, Anton Yelchin shines. His green and boyish charm works well as his character is forced to grow up in a hard and fast way to deal with the unexpected violent threats he and his friends face. I enjoyed watching his character develop from insecure naivete to confident discernment for the sake of survival. Imogene Poots, who stars as his vigilant and vengeful ally Amber, delivers one of her best performances ever. The other stand-out performance, of course, is Patrick Stewart who offers a cold, calculating and sublime turn as Darcy. I have heard some grumblings of the British actor’s casting as a neo-Nazi leader, but the seminal actor brings a genuine dedication to the character’s goals, rather focusing than the more aesthetic qualities (accent).
Again, this is all fitting for a movie about punk rockers versus skinheads. Saulnier takes the whole stripped-down, DIY, can-do, like it or not attitude to his film and it works wonders. Punk rock fans and those who love siege flicks will absolutely adore this film. Though the material is not as original or distinct as that of Blue Ruin, Jeremy Saulnier still makes a mark on siege cinema and audiences will reap the benefits. The often gruesome and disturbing film obviously won’t appeal to more delicate movie goers, but then again, punk rock has never been about sugar coating.