Following up from his theatrical debut, Blue Ruin, director Jeremy Saulnier could’ve taken any route he wanted. And he chose to make Assault On Precinct Nazi, which is absolutely fine because he turns out a film with enough force to confirm himself as a director to watch out for. Green Room is the new best siege movie, with enough intensity and unrelenting violence to satisfy any genre fan.
The film follows up-and-coming punk band The Ain’t Rights, consisting of frontman Tiger (Callum Turner), guitarists Pat (Anton Yelchin) and Sam (Alia Shawkat) and drummer Reece (Joe Cole), as they travel cross-country on tour. After a disastrous opening, the band are told by a radio host of a bar where his cousin works that’s habited primarily by right-wing (technically ultra-left) white supremacists. With no other option, the band take the gig and drive out to the middle of nowhere to perform.
Surprisingly, the band manage to win over the crowd and the night seems to be a success, but just when they go to leave, Pat returns to the bar’s green room to pick up some things, and walks in on some of the local Neo-Nazis and a dead body. Suddenly things kick into high-gear; the bar workers Gabe (Saulnier regular Macon Blair) and Big Justin (Eric Edelstein) jump into action to try and contain the situation while the band, along with Amber (Imogen Poots),the dead girl’s friend, try to find the way out of the increasingly dangerous situation. Eventually Gabe calls the bar owner and Neo-Nazi leader Darcy (Patrick Stewart), who realises that the group need to be disposed of and fast before anyone notices they’re missing. With a group of wannabe punk rockers on one side and the most organised team of skinheads in history on the other, it’s time to play war.
The beauty of the story is how simple but effective it is. Once the set-up is out of the way and the players all in their places the film never lets up on the concept of this group of five against a small army of angry and organised skinheads. In that regard, the film’s ace-in-the-hole is its execution, which delivers a hardcore and often shocking display of tension and violence, even managing to subvert expectations more than once. Whenever a new element or twist is introduced, primarily through the back history of the Supremacist Movement, it’s quickly taken care of so as to expand the story but to never lose that tight focus of survival.
Likewise, character development is short, but for this type of movie it makes sense; we’re only getting a snapshot into these people’s lives – for many of them the final moments of their lives – and it works. The main four of Pat, Sam, Tiger and Reece all come across initially as the type of punk rockers you’d expect to find all mumbling, downtrodden and borderline criminal. But they all have something endearing about them, especially once they start to drop the facade and the fear puts them into a very real portion of their lives. Reece, typically a fighter and ready to take charge, does at times appears to be the most frightened. Tiger, the only one not to feel the need to hide himself, tries to show bravery only to have it blow up in his face and Sam, the lone female of the band, uses her ‘no-care’ attitude to hide a mother-hen mentality.
Star Trek’s Anton Yelchin takes the (arguably) lead role as Pat, but even then he’s hard to describe as a hero after suffering a near-crippling attack early on. As the night goes on, however, and the pain ebbs away in place of adrenaline, he finds a courage to fight back, though never loses the endearing humanity that turns people onto him. The real courage comes from Amber; this is a completely against type role for Poots, who embraces the dark and mysterious nature of Amber with gusto, she is probably the most chilling character in the film; being completely unfazed by the brutality of death. .It’s a fantastic performance and one that easily steals the film due to how surprisingly adept Poots is with a very different character turn.
The villains are mostly a collection of nameless psychopaths, armed with blades and a pissed-off attitude, terrifying enough in their own right. But there are a few standouts, namely Gabe, one of the bar workers who doesn’t seem to follow the Movement’s beliefs, and Clarke (Kai Lennox), owner of a group of fighting dogs and second-in-command to Darcy. Darcy himself is something else, this is an against-type role for Stewart, but he pulls it off with a sinister and terrifying creation. What’s scariest about him is how he never raises his voice; throughout the whole film he keeps calm and collected, despite some set-backs that eat into his carefully-planned schedule. It’s the fact that he has a schedule at all that’s the scariest part of all. Darcy might not partake in the actual killings, but he’s the brains behind the outfit, and Stewart is chilling to witness in the role.
While not as character-focused or as low-key as Blue Ruin, Jeremy Saulnier delivers another genre hit, showcasing himself as an intense and fearless director to watch out for. One thing’s for sure: Saulnier does not hold back when it comes to violence. This is some of the most realistic and brutal stuff seen in a long time, with everything from broken arms, slit throats and gunshots to dogs tearing out flesh and a nasty scene with a box-cutter that’s sure to make the skin crawl. What’s more, it’s all shown in unfaltering clarity; the camera does not turn away in the slightest, forcing the audience to face the same blood-drenched horror that the characters are enduring.
Seriously, talk about intense. From the moment the dead body is found to the final frame, Saulnier refuses to let the audience breath, putting them through a slow-burning Hell with intermittent shots of extreme violence to spice things up bit. One scene with a shotgun is one of the best jump scares we’ve had in a good while, and it’s not even technically a jump scare. Not to oversell the film, but the Assault On Precinct 13 reference earlier was not a throwaway line; this is Carpenter levels of fear-building and this being Saulnier’s second film (technically third if we count the DTV Murder Party), him already showing that level of quality is a great sign of things to come. He’s developed a craftsmanship for tension, dragging the film out until breaking point before slamming it back down on your nerves and repeating the process.
For the majority of the first act it’s a two-way conversation with the band on one side of a door and Darcy on the other trying to calm down the situation, and you’ve not idea what Darcy is planning but you can tell that he’s lying and it’s that waiting for his ultimate plan to appear that makes that first half so intense, before delving into an increasingly violent and surprising second half where both sides start to feel the strain of holding themselves together.
Green Room is a film that is destined to become a genre classic, taking a punk-rock setting and turning it into a siege movie, complete with white supremacists and lashings of ultra-violence. The film on its own is a must-see for genre fans, but the added benefits of great character turns from Poots and Stewart, as well as Saulnier’s intense, confident direction makes this a must see for the year.
4 out of 5 Hairpieces