Green Room (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★
Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier crafts a meticulous thriller that is not about plot or characters but about an exercise in tension. “Green Room” presents a situation which involves being stuck in a particular place and over time we begin to wonder what the key players are willing to sacrifice in order to extricate themselves out of an increasingly complicated—and messy—affair. It is composed of performers who sell their roles with authenticity.
The circumstance is this: four hard rock bandmates (Anton Yelchin, Joe Cole, Alia Shawkat, Callum Turner), desperate for money, accept a job to play at a club located in the woods of Oregon. The catch: the patrons are neo-Nazi skinheads. Although the show goes shockingly well despite the opening cover song “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” by the Dead Kennedys, which offended some of the audience, Pat (Yelchin) stumbles upon a murder scene in one of the rooms while his friends are on their way out to the van. The bouncers forcibly put the band members in the same room as the corpse until the cops arrive.
Notice how little we get to know the characters. In a survival thriller involving a group of people, such a technique works because it puts us on edge. Typically, in more mainstream thrillers propelled by painfully ordinary visions, usually the character, or characters, who talks the most or shares a handful of one’s life stories is likely to be the sole survivor.
Here, we grow anxious, sometimes in an underhanded way, because we expect to grow attached to least one of them through expected motifs but they rarely, if ever, arrive. Sometimes a character begins to speak in a serious tone but then it turns out to be a misdirect. Action intervenes. The dynamics of the plight changes. We realize that anybody can drop dead at the drop of a hat. And that’s exciting.
Like in Saulnier’s previous feature films, “Murder Party” and the highly underrated “Blue Ruin,” the writer-director is not afraid to deliver the necessary brutality but also not afraid to use such violence to involve rather than to disgust the audience. For example, when a person’s arm gets stuck at a door and there is an assailant on the other side, the camera lingers an extra beat or two. A second or two may not sound like a long time, but the longer it stayed in that position, I found myself willing the camera to look another way or for the director to break the shot. Saulnier delivers these fresh choices with consistency. It is such a joy to relish his work because we can feel his love for the thriller genre through his control of the craft.
Equally in control is Patrick Stewart who plays the owner of the neo-Nazi bar named Darcy. There is a smooth calm about him that is particularly eerie. Darcy doesn’t scream or yell but you know that when he wants something done, it had better be done correctly, exactly how he wanted it to be accomplished. Stewart makes an interesting choice of wearing almost one expression the entire time. What changes, however, are his eyes. He is like a bomb with red numbers counting down; we cannot help but stare at those eyes, desperate for a glint of humanity or mercy, but the numbers don’t care. They just are.