Second Sight: Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room (2016)


Images Courtesy of A24

Pure viciousness.

Jeremy Saulnier's third film, Green Room, is a tense standoff piece that is wound so tightly it threatens to come undone under its own exhausting framework, but manages to persevere. Saulnier's vicious command, an amazing ensemble cast, and brutal imagery come together to create an unforgettable foray into the nasty underbelly of white supremacists.

A punk band desperate for cash plays a gig at a Neo-Nazi hangout. In the back, they witness a criminal act and are trapped in the eponymous room, desperate to escape before the nazi’s decide to remove them permanently.

Saulnier’s script brims with realistic vulnerability. The characters are flesh and blood and make logical decisions. They feel pain the way the audience does and they lose themselves with fear, panic, and despair, only to then rally and face their enemies head on.

Saulnier is not making films for awards. He is not making films to impress or to confuse. He has a lot to say about base human emotions during extreme duress, a concept he first explored in Blue Ruin which further evolves in this offering.  Green Room is lean and mean. There is no gloss. Every line of dialogue in the script exists to either build your emotional connection to the characters (including the villains) or to communicate how tired both sides of the conflict are. Both the punks and the nazis seem almost annoyed and inconvenienced by their sudden life or death entanglement and it is borderline comical at times while unflinchingly violent at others, and the way the tone shift is handled is masterful.

Sean Porter's cinematography is bare-bones and decidedly not flashy for most of the film, but when his eye chooses to focus on the human aspects on display, the film really shines. The entire first 15 minutes is a great example of how to the make the audience care about the characters with discreet, but sincere effort, something that has been forsaken in the modern slasher genre.

Macon Blair delivers one of the best performances in the film. His vague reluctance amidst the abrupt and sudden bloodshed is perfectly hidden behind his conformist demeanor and the viewer feels as if they are a fellow conspirator in his quiet dissent. Patrick Stewart delivers one of the most understated manifestations of evil ever filmed. Many complained about his lack of screen time, but this only enhances the mystique of the villainous Darcey even more, forcing the audience to wait with anticipation for his next ominous appearance.

Rounding out the cast are Imogen Poots and Anton Yelchin. Yelchin, in his penultimate performance, delivers a great vulnerable turn as the band's leader Pat, while Poots steals the entire film with her deceptively deadly Amber. The duo's chemistry works so well you find yourself rooting for them despite the odds.

Amanda Needham's costume design is amazing and must be mentioned. Everything about the characters you can read in what they wear. The punks are living out of a van-chic, while the nazis wear their hate on their skin and in their dingy suspenders and doc martins. It is all so real and only helps to increase the visceral effect when the blood begins to flow and it does flow in copious amounts.

Green Room is a harrowing film because it does not strive to be anything more than what it is. It is nothing special and that is precisely why it is so unique. The film's hilarious final exchange echoes the film's deadpan approach to the subject matter. Everything is fine until it is not and then the monsters inside of all us come out to play. To the victors go the only prize that matters: the privilege to do it all over again tomorrow.

--Kyle Jonathan