Things have gone south. No doubt.
I loved Saulnier’s last film, a gripping, mean, surprisingly thoughtful exploration of violence and revenge, Blue Ruin. In this film, a small punk band is trapped at an isolated bar by a gang of ruthless neo-Nazis. It’s significantly shallower than Blue Ruin in terms of themes and artistry. Blue Ruin was about a lot of things; every scene was saying something deeper than it appeared to be and, in the end, it added up to a seriously compelling philosophical statement. Green Room isn’t that, but that doesn’t make it bad. Green Room is a vicious little thriller, filled with merciless violence and shot in a guerilla style. It’s, in its own way, an ugly movie, both visually and tonally. But it’s something of a genre masterpiece really. I loved every minute of this film which slowly cranks the dread and suspense tighter and tighter as the film progresses. Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots are both probably career best here. Yelchin is particularly compelling because he’s committed to his role as a guy who’s basically a wimp; he portrays and communicates terror and fear very, very well. Patrick Stewart wisely underplays his role as the leader of the neo-Nazi gang. The reason he’s so disturbing and frightening is because he isn’t a frothing, screaming lunatic; he’s a quiet, well-spoken, thoughtful & intelligent guy and this incongruity is striking. But Saulnier’s writing is really sharp here in terms of characterization in the general sense. There’s just a beat of added humanity in all these characters that elevates this above the kind of lazy exploitation flick its premise seems to suggest. The characters all feel utterly real and that’s true even of the neo-Nazis. In fact, the performance of the film comes from Macon Blair, who was the lead in Blue Ruin. He has a supporting role as the second-in-command of the Neo-Nazis and at first he seems commanding and frightening, but as the film goes on we see his doubt and emotional conflict. There’s a scene where Stewart’s character finally gives him the red laces he so covets, the identification mark of the gang. Blair’s near wordless performance in that scene is the moment of the movie for me; you see his pride, but also his fear and his uncertainty. This is another masterpiece from Saulnier and maybe the fact that it’s much more stripped down and less thoughtful than Blue Ruin, while being no less character based, is a good thing. It shows that Saulnier has more than one brand of thriller up his sleeve. I know I can’t wait to see what he does next and I hope this film raises his profile even more. He’s a master at characters, at atmosphere, at violence and at deconstruction. This taut, intense thriller is proof of that. 4 stars.
tl;dr – vicious thriller doesn’t pull any punches; dread-soaked and violent, but also with surprisingly brilliant character work; another masterpiece from Saulnier. 4 stars.