Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Opens April 15
When things start to go south in Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room, I thought of a lyric from “You! Me! Dancing!” by Los Campesinos!—the one that goes: “And it’s sad that you think they’re all just scenesters. And even if we were, it’s not the scene you’re thinking of.” At first, the punk rock band the Ain’t Rights seem to be driving through a scene graveyard on their ramshackle tour. One venue cancels at the last minute, and their mohawked local-scene rep rebooks them for a lunchtime gig that pays about thirty bucks. He then apologetically hooks them up with his cousin in another town, who gets them an opening slot at a rock club. But the rock club turns out to be a white supremacist hangout, and the white supremacist hangout, run by D’Arcy (Patrick Stewart) turns out to be a deathtrap when the bassist (Anton Yelchin) witnesses the aftermath of a murder. Soon the four bandmates plus another witness (Imogen Poots) are holed up in a dressing room, under neo-Nazi siege.
Saulnier’s determination to throw regular folks into genre scenarios continues, then, with this colorfully named companion piece to the revenge-centric Blue Ruin. The naturalistic opening, heavy on lush (if slightly forbidding) Oregon scenery, gets its portent from the devastating efficiency Saulnier employs before he even touches the carnage: When the band crashes at someone’s apartment for the night and someone puts on a punk record, Saulnier cuts straight from the “1-2-3-4!” count-off to the needle parked at the end of the still-spinning LP the next morning. The DIY idyll (check the lovely shot of Yelchin and Alia Shawkat sharing a mini-bike on their way to siphon gas) gives way to an eerie pall, and by the time Stewart turns up at the white-power club, Green Room has become almost unbearably tense. That tension derives from loaded guns and vicious attack dogs, yes, but also whether the band will muster the punk-rock bravado necessary to survive the attack.
As with Blue Ruin, the realistic messiness of the violence introduces a procedural element. Rather than staying inside the green room, Saulnier frequently cuts over to the bad guys as they methodically arrange their murderous siege. This means that the movie doesn’t hide Stewart, exactly, but it also doesn’t often face him head-on; early on, he’s sometimes an offscreen voice, or a presence shot from the back, distinctive bald head gleaming even after dark. He’s scary because he rarely raises his voice, even as he presides over terrible acts of violence. Green Room is brutal as fuck, an extended knife-twist at a screw-turning pace, but Saulnier never turns it into a howl of nihilism. Punk isn’t dead—or at least you’ll root for it to stay alive.