Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin was one of my favorite films of 2014. This one is my most anticipated film of 2016.
Jeremy Saulnier is not a director who shies away from showcasing the bleakness that exists at the hearts of his characters. Though Green Room is a broad step into a more action-oriented “home invasion” type of film than the quieter, perhaps more personal Blue Ruin, both are films about exacting revenge and the not-so redemptive qualities of doing so. Green Room follows a gritty punk band, The Ain’t Rights, on the last few shows of a particularly grueling tour. These are the punks your mother warned you against – they siphon gas to drive, they rough up their hosts when his show falls through, they spit and spew and in general act like precocious fucks. For a variety of reasons the Ain’t Rights end up in the backwoods of some Washington/Oregon seeming locale playing at a venue for a bunch of skinhead, neo-Nazis. Things go badly. And then they go worse, and then a group of snot-nosed twenty-somethings are fighting for their lives against a brotherhood of racist dickheads. I haven’t listened to punk rock since I was 22, and when I did I was a suburbs kid who got his shit handed to him in the circle, but Saulnier has managed to capture the punk aesthetic without dipping into stereotype. These are kids who quote Minor Threat and play Nazi Punks to a group of skinheads; this a venue that even on screen manages to give off the subtle waft of stale beer and staler piss; this is music that gouges you in the face and drags you down the stairs – it is a rough go. But somehow, Saulnier manages to infuse the film with both beauty (it’s a gorgeously dark little nugget of lighting) and small flashes of humor (Imogen Poots really steals this show as the almost feral Sam, a punk rock girl gone too far). This feels like the dark reflection of a Joss Whedon film. The characters interact like real humans – Anton Yelchin’s Pat cries for literally the entirety of the film – but the interactions are perfectly manicured so they still resonate with the sort of fuck-off camaraderie touring bands end up developing. There are great action beats, but Saulnier doesn’t push them to be polished – this is the sloppy violence of real humans, gory and fleshy and accidental. And this is what the film seems to be saying, this is a violent moment, a “nightmare” in the words of Yelchin’s Pat, a horrible thing that just went too far, but at the end, regardless of our viewpoints or political beliefs we are all humans, and we all do the great and terrible things we do because of that version of humanity. Saulnier just wraps that lovely sentiment in barbed wire and blood. And it fucking rules.
One Last Thought:
I don’t know if anyone has ever used Patrick Stewart as well before. He’s a brutal, skinhead tactician but also a reserved Englishmen. It brings all of Stewart’s gravitas to bear on what is a terribly evil role. He is a role model and a leader to his skinhead gang, but as the film rolls out, a more and more horrible human. It’s a beautiful coin to see slowly turn and Stewart absolutely owns the role.