Fantastic Fest Review: ‘GREEN ROOM’ – A Self-Contained Masterwork

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Cole Clay // Film Critic 

GREEN ROOM | 94 min | R
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Mark Webber, Eric Edelstein, Macon Blair, Kai Lennox and Patrick Stewart

Two years ago Jeremy Saulnier blew the top off of Fantastic Fest with the quietly grisly tale of revenge titled BLUE RUIN. He is back at the genre fest for the U.S. premiere of the uber-violent story of punks versus Neo-nazis in GREEN ROOM. The contained terror is an explosion of the senses, and despite Saunier’s recent credibility boost, he stated that “there were opportunities to take on loftier projects,” but created a film that rips through every action cliche with the upmost form of originality.

The Ain’t Rights are a punk group who have been on the road relying on siphoning gas to make it to the next gig, which ended up being a Mexican restaurant where they earned $6.86 a piece. It’s evident that these self-indoctrinated misfits including singer Tiger (Callum Turner), bassist Pat (Anton Yelchin), guitarist Sam (Alia Shawkat), and drummer Reece (Joe Cole) have been through the muck together for some time. The vibrancy of youth in captured within the bandmates, their insistant on projecting an image of rebellion that has since gone out of style. Band these days have zero problems selling out, while The Ain’t Rights music is lacking to live up to thier “so called” idols like Minor Threat, or the Misfits.

After wearily accepting a set in the back woods of Oregon at a neo-nazi club, all hell breaks loose after a girl is murdered in the titular green room. Their look is reminiscent of a time when punk was considered to be groundbreaking, when documentaries like THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION sparked a cultural conversation way before Hot Topic made the counter culture a walking parody.

Alia Shawkat and Anton Yelchin in GREEN ROOM. Photo courtesy of A24.

Alia Shawkat and Anton Yelchin in GREEN ROOM. Photo courtesy of A24.

Most punks are posers who are longing for the nostalgia that has long since collapsed and the film touches on that very notion. Saulnier’s knowledge of the scene and authenticity has the gumption to tell this band’s story, but instead of profiling a struggling band strictly he makes a movie about a fight for their lives against the skinheads, led by Darcy (Patrick Stewart). This is no Jane Austen character; he’s a bad dude who will calculate a vicious scheme to get The Ain’t Rights the heck out of dodge. Darcy beckons his team of cronies and red-laced (a badge of honor that signifies bloodshed) bigots including Gabe (Macon Blair), who seems to kind of be rooting for the band’s survival, but his complex feelings and Blair’s performance makes the situation appear to be the furthest thing from ritualistic for the skin heads. Blair doesn’t get near as much screen time as he did in BLUE RUIN – appearing in nearly every second of that film – but his performance is by-and-large the stand out. He and Stewart are a two-hander of calmly calculated evil, that isn’t an overt. It’s the quiet moments that make this world more frightening than anything you’ve seen in a supernatural horror film, somewhere in the world you can believe these people do exist.

The carnage that ensues in this compound is so technically marvelous and makes complete narrative sense. Saulnier keeps it simple; the characters have one motivation and that’s to survive. There are countless obstacles and weapons used from machetes, to fire extinguishers, and yes, even Pit Bulls.  Here’s the deal, the violence is crowd-pleasing and fun, but has a brutality that never flinches and pays largely employs dozens of practical effects.

Yelchin’s work is consistently reliable at being our cool every man as he haphazardly tries to lead his buddies to safety. He has yet to get the credit he deserves, but Saulnier sees something in him– and alongside a enigmatic Imogen Poots, GREEN ROOM keeps packing on the layers of pure visceral joy. Saulnier has made a masterwork that excites and stimulates from beginning to end. The tone goes from slightly comedic, to brutally gut-wrenching and back around again. This is the complete package that will go down in genre film history as one of the greats.

GREEN ROOM came off the festival circuit last fall with a buzz that lives up to the hyperbole with an intelligence and precise focus from Saulnier that should not be taken for granted in this day and age where mid-budget films are falling by the wayside. Saulnier’s violence is at show here, but there’s more than meets the eye with this sharp chiller.

GREEN ROOM opens nationwide Friday, April 29th.