Jeremy Saulnier’s mesmerizing 2013 film “Blue Ruin” was (as MTV.com’s Kevin Sullivan astutely put it) a prime example of “what Kickstarter is really capable of when it comes to movies”. Saulnier’s crowdfunded American thriller not only managed to get made, but it was one of the best film’s of that year.
His follow-up came with 2015’s “Green Room” which features a bigger budget (though still modest by today’s standards) and a broader cast of talent. The film is listed as a horror movie yet it plays out like an insanely intense survivalist thriller. It employs a familiar framework found in many horror movies yet it is very much its own crazy unique thing.
In one of his final roles Anton Yelchin stars as a bass player for a punk band who gets by playing hole-in-the-wall clubs around the Pacific Northwest. Flat broke, they agree to take a gig at a neo-Nazi pub deep in the forest near Portland. The setting alone is uncomfortable and a bit frightening. But things really go south after the band witnesses a violent backroom crime. Along with another witness (Imogen Poots), the band find themselves holed up inside the bar while outside the subtly sinister club owner (a brilliant Patrick Stewart) gathers his army of hatemongers to clean up the messy situation.
From there Saulnier throttles up the survival element and a sizzling white-knuckled tension drives every scene for the rest of the way. And you’ll quickly notice (especially if you haven’t seen “Blue Ruin”) that Saulnier can really build and sustain suspense.
Also prepare to be shocked. The movie’s second half is savagely brutal and the violence often hits with a bloody primal jolt. But Saulnier manages to walk an important line and doesn’t allow the violence to become gratuitous despite being incredibly graphic. It feels right – jarring in the best way and in tune with the ugliness of the situation and setting. It won’t be for the squeamish but it’s very effective.
For many “Green Room” seemingly came out of nowhere. But for fans of his previous film it only solidifies Jeremy Saulnier’s status as a formidable filmmaker worth following. It features fine performances throughout (sadly one of the final ones from Yelchin) and a superb turn from Stewart. As a whole the story is pretty simple, even a bit familiar. But once you dig in, you realize this thing has a pulse all its own. And once you’re in its grip it doesn’t let go.
VERDICT – 4 STARS