|Review by Sharon Knolle|
Jeremy Saulnier follows up his impressive debut film Blue Ruin with a taut and brutal thriller that’s one of the best films of the year so far.
The Ain’t Rights — fronted by Amber (Alia Shawkat) and Pat (Anton Yelchin) — are about ready to pack in their dwindling tour, but decide to take on one last decidedly sketchy gig at an out-of-the-way bar in Oregon.
They’re not thrilled it’s a Neo-Nazi hangout, but they figure they can do the gig, get paid and get out. Unfortunately, a quick show turns into all-night fight for survival after they witness a murder.
Now the band is trapped in the green room with a corpse, her best friend (Imogen Poots), and an oversized skinhead with a shotgun. On his way is club owner Darcy (Patrick Stewart), who knows he can’t let these witnesses go, at least not alive.
Although Stewart has played villains before (in Conspiracy Theory and Masterminds), it’s a shock to see him playing such a ruthless character.
At first, he seems almost fatherly to the band. He’s just trying to make sure they’re all right. Everything will be fine. The police are on their way. Of course that’s what they want to hear, but they know better than to trust him.
To call what follows “a game of cat and mouse” would be a gross understatement.
While Blue Ruin was a slow burn with quick bursts of violence, Green Room is a rapidly escalating battle with scenes that had the audience gasping and covering their eyes.
For such a limited concept — a band trapped in the green room of a club — the film delivers a surprising amount of well-plotted intensity. As in any good thriller, the ordinary joes prove surprisingly resourceful in this life-or-death game, just as Blair did in Blue Ruin. And there’s a dark sense of humor underlying even the most violent scenes and that’s a tricky thing to pull off.
Part of the humor is due to the underdog punkers Shawkat (who was so good in The Final Girls) and Yelchin, who doesn’t seem much older than the teen he played in Alpha Dog. Starting off their set with The Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” for an all-skinhead audience is obviously not a smart thing for their characters to do, but it is funny.
The star of Blue Ruin, Macon Blair, has a much smaller role here as a skinhead trying to earn his red shoelaces. He’s almost unrecognizable as the shambling hero of Saulnier’s first film, but he proves to be a pivotal player.
Saulnier is carving out a niche somewhere between Martin Scorsese’s brutal mob dramas and the darker side of the Coen Bros,’ where the hero’s survival is never a sure thing. He’s becoming one of my favorite directors and I can’t wait to see what he does next.