As far as gory and ultraviolent siege films go, master of all things low-budget and indie, Jeremy Saulnier conjures up a macabre chill feast, horrific enough to keep you wincing and constantly double checking the locks on your door every few seconds. Like a puppeteer, Saulnier attaches each one of your nerves to the tips of his fingers and with the deft accuracy of an orchestra conductor he teases, manipulates and tortures them. Like the character’s experience in the film, around every corner is a suspense trap constructed by a sinister genius. However, as you watch Green Room, although it is brilliant, you can’t shake the nagging feeling that at the last moment Saulnier took a detour away from what could have been a really incredible film, which could’ve offered an honest exploration of toxic ideologies, instead he settles for the dependable scare factor. Green Room in my eyes had the potential to create a captivating dissection of a hate fuelled subculture, White supremacists, which despite societies insistence that brutal racism is a relic of the past, the group and its destructive beliefs continues to militaries, evolve and thrive. With a little more scope and ambition, Jeremy Saulnier could’ve created an unflinching discussion on racism and hate to rival the likes of Mississippi Burning and Crash.
A trail of crushed corn leads to an unmoving van. As the camera swoops down from a menacing height, like vulture circling its dying pray, the scene instantly stabs you with questions – Has there been a crash? Is the driver dead? However, it soon becomes apparent that the occupants of the vehicle are not hurt or in any immediate danger, yet, they’re a band called ‘Ain’t Rights’ and they’ve merely run out of fuel. In a real testament to their punk rock persona, band members Pat (Anton Yelchin) and Sam (Alia Shawkat) venture to find some cars to syphon petrol from, their means of transport – a bike barley big enough for a 12-year-old. With a tank filled with stolen petrol, the band head to a gig in a stadium filled with their adoring fans, actually more like a diner with a dozen disgruntled customers, more accustomed to listening to Frank Sinatra on the radio than head banging to hard rock.
Stop! Don’t be lured into a false sense of security by the comedic start, because things soon take a grizzly turn for the worst. The bands next (and last…) gig leads them to a drive bar a million miles away from civilization or someone to hear them scream. With confederate flags flown high, SS insignia plastered everywhere and Nazi armbands worn with pride, the band find themselves in the heart of a White supremacist territory. Clearly the band are uncomfortable by their surroundings, but with a mere $6 to their name from the last gig they have no choice but to play. In retaliation to the crowd’s ideologies, the band for kicks decide to sing an inflammatory song at their expense. However, beyond the occasional boo and chucked bottle, the crowd remain civil and even begin to enjoy the band’s music. The gig ends without a hitch and the band collect their money, but Sam realises she left her phone backstage, Pat offers to retrieve it for her and to his horror he finds a girl dead on the floor, with a knife protruding from her skull and two lofty skinheads towering over her. The horrific violence that follows makes the movie Saw look like a mere drop of blood in Green Room’s scarlet ocean.
It is further testament to Saulnier’s ability to be able to cast an actor in the calibre of Patrick Stewart, but considering the thespian was clearly playing against type, more could have been done to take advantage of this. It would’ve been more effective if Saulnier took the time to really unravel the psychology of supremacist leader Darcy Banker (Stewart) and find out what really motivates his hate, because it would’ve made the character darker and more unnerving.
Despite such a shoe string budget, chock-full of chilling twists at every turn, Green Room is another testament to Jeremy Saulnier’s innovation and determination to get a story told regardless of financial limitations. Cleverly, during the earlier stand offs between the band and supremacists, Saulnier’s direction almost lacks empathy, regardless of the mounting aggression and tension the director remains constantly light, uncritical and unsympathetic of either group, instead he aims to observe rather than pick sides. Then as the violence erupts and blood begins to splatter on your screens, Saulnier’s switches gears and with his signature machete sharp directing, he drags you like a dog on a leash kicking and screaming through the darkest and most deprived depths of his film. Unlike even the scariest of roller coasters Green Room never comes to a gentle holt, instead it’s non-stop carnage and flying bullets from beginning to the very (grizzly) end.