Review: Green Room
PLOT: After a gig gone bad, a band of punk rockers find themselves locked in a life and death battle with a deadly gang of neo-Nazis.
REVIEW: Jeremy Saulnier broke out in a big way a few years ago with his darkly humorous revenge drama BLUE RUIN and now he's back with an ultra-ambitious follow-up which further establishes his reputation as one of the leading talents in contemporary genre cinema. GREEN ROOM is a tightly-coiled, ultra-intense action drama, with heavy doses of macabre humor and horror movie-levels of carnage. For ninety minutes, Saulnier's film grabs you and doesn't let go until the credits roll, by which time you'll be left an absolute wreck, as it's a roller-coaster ride.
In some ways, GREEN ROOM is like vintage John Carpenter, specifically the original ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. Much of the film is set in the titular “Green Room” as our punk band heroes try desperately to survive against a gang of particularly vicious skin-heads. What makes it so effective aren't the barrels of gore (including some incredibly brutal box-cutter wounds) but rather the fact that you identify so completely with the punk heroes. A real sense of camaraderie is present right from the get-go, with the perpetually broke gang siphoning gas out of parking lots, and crashing wherever they can – mostly in their cramped van.
It's interesting that Saulnier is able to sell the concept so efficiently, as you wouldn't think a non-conformist punk band with a Jewish bass-player would be keen to play for Nazis, but their desperation is clear early-on. Even more interesting is how the Nazis are shown to love the band, even when they defiantly start their set with the anthem “Nazi Punks F**k You!” It doesn't take long for the carnage to start, but Saulnier holds back on the violence for a while, as he takes him time to let the tension simmer to a boiling point, which then explodes into an orgy of brutally realistic violence.
The cast is uniformly excellent. Anton Yelchin is incredibly likable as the defacto leader of the band, in that he's the most even-headed and mature. Alia Shawkat plays his second-in-command, acting as a kind of mother-hen, who keeps the immature lead singer Tiger (Callum Turner) in line, while drummer Reece (Joe Cole) is the gang's alpha male and the one seemingly most prepared to do battle with the skin-heads. Yelchin's FRIGHT NIGHT co-star Imogen Poots is particularly good as a surprisingly personable and clever skin-head hanger-on, who emerges as a kind of heroine.
The baddies are just as effective, with Patrick Stewart brilliantly cast-against type as the cool-headed but cold-blooded Nazi boss, who uses his dull-witted underlings to do his dirty-work. Stewart is convincing in the part, evoking both intellect and malevolence, making him a potentially iconic baddie. Just as impressive is BLUE RUIN's Macon Blair, as the only other skin-head who seems as clever as Stewart and could almost pass for a normal guy were it weren't for the massive swastika poking out from underneath his shirt.
GREEN ROOM's effectiveness can be summed-up by the fact that it was chosen to head-off this year's Midnight Madness and even after a whirlwind of parties and screenings, it played to packed house that screamed approval throughout and rewarded it with a thunderous applause once it ended. It's an absolutely rock-solid blend of action, horror and drama, but the skill it was made with, the top-level acting and the incredible pace will almost certainly allow this to cross over to a large audience. It definitely has the potential to be a real cult classic, and seeing it at TIFF is an experience that will be tough to top this year.
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