*** stars (out of four)
Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier became an indie darling in 2013 with Blue Ruin, a thriller about an ordinary man’s clumsy attempts at revenge that backfire horrifically. His follow-up, Green Room, is a siege picture along the lines of Assault on Precinct 13. But there are similarities to Saulnier’s first film in that they deal with how ordinary people react when confronted with extraordinary violence.
The movie’s leads are a struggling punk band. They can barely afford gas or food and out of desperation, they agree to play a lucrative gig at a skinhead bar. After a tense set, one of the band members (Anton Yelchin) returns to the green room to retrieve a forgotten phone. Inside, he stumbles upon a recently committed murder. The band and the victim’s friend (Imogen Poots) are locked in the room while the skinheads (led by skittish bar manager Macon Blair and cold-blooded mastermind Patrick Stewart) devise a plan. Soon, it becomes clear to the hostages that they won’t be let out of the bar alive.
As a director, Saulnier makes the most of his few locations. You always know what’s happening where and why (in the cut-cut-cut school of directing and editing, many horror and action films lose all sense of place). The characters alternately have good and terrible ideas, which feels like how real people would react. And when the violence occurs, the characters don’t turn into stoic heroes. They scream, weep hysterically, and freak out the way most people probably would if confronted by murderous skinheads.
Warning: Green Room is not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach. The violence here is sudden, brutal, and nasty. Viewers see in excruciating detail the damage box cutters, shotgun blasts, and canine teeth can do to a person. There’s a purpose to it - Saulnier clearly does not want to show murder without making the audience think about the ugly consequences. But the squeamish should be aware going in that this film is lucky to get an R rating and not an NC-17.