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
This is actually one of my favorite movies of the last couple of years and is one of the most gripping, visceral experiences I’ve had sitting in a movie theater. The music, the performances, the direction, just about everything about Green Room struck a chord with me. I may go as far to say that alongside Ben and Josh Safdie, Saulnier is the best American director working today. Nice review Keith.
Thanks man. That is really high praise. I may not be ready to call him the best American director today, but he certainly has shown himself to be a filmmaker who will instantly have my attention. His knack for tension-building is so impressive.
Spot-on review Keith. This thing is just sensationally gripping. I still feel guilty for not having seen his follow-up, Hold the Dark. Heard some promising if weird things about it. Saulnier is up there with directors I need to really keep track of. He and Jeff Nichols. Who you met. You jerk. 😉
Ha Ha. I’ve met Jeff twice now. He’s such a down-to-earth guy who has such a love for cinema. And you can see that in his work.
Great review keith, this movie REALLY is a barn burner isn’t it??! I loved the atypical role for Stewart. Bittersweet for Anton Yelchin. Another great one from Saulnier, one of the greats working today IMO. I really gotta get on his new one, Hold the Dark.
I was okay with Hold the Dark but struggled with certain aspects of it. So much so that it is one of the few movies I didn’t feel comfortable enough writing a review on. I really do need to rewatch it.
Green Room kinda blew my mind. I was sooo late coming to it. Stewart was lights out fantastic. And Yelchin showed why is is going to be so sorely missed.
I saw this last year. It was intense and scary. Truly a film that I’m sure will be seen by many in the years to come. It sucks that Anton Yelchin isn’t around anymore as he will be missed.
Oh for sure. One think I really liked about Yelchin was the variety of roles he was taking on. I hate that we will miss out on what would have been a tremendous career.
Agreed. This is a fantastic film and Patrick Stewart absolutely kills it! Overall, I still prefer Blue Ruin, but only slightly. Both are great.
I think I’m with ya. Really like this one but I too prefer Blue Ruin. That film has really stuck with me.
Great review. This is my favourite of his three films; fantastically bleak from start to finish. I found Blue Ruin raw, compelling but very frustrating and Hold the Dark is brutal and stylish but too enigmatic and ambiguous for its own good.
I definitely like this one better than Hold the Dark (which I really need to see again). I do love Blue Ruin and this one isn’t far behind it.
Great review! This was one of my favorites the year it came out, it’s such a solid film. I miss Yelchin so much.
Yelchin had really won me over. I mentioned elsewhere that I was really impressed with the range he showed and the diversity of roles he tackled. So sad.
I thought the colour palette of this film really added to the atmosphere and keeping the runtime short keeps it really edge of the seat.
Great observation. It really does contribute to the atmosphere.
oh that is a fantastic movie. So tense and filled with great performances. I really need to see Blue Ruin, I only heard great things about it
You really do need to give Blue Ruin a look. I was so late getting to Green Room. Glad I finally gave it a look.
Great review! I enjoyed immensely Blue ruin and then I bought the Green room DVD without thinking twice. Such a great movie, I’ve seen it three times already. Anton Yelchin was a good actor, so sad that he passed away so young…
Thank you! Green Room really sucks you in, doesn’t it? I can’t believe it took me so long to see it.
It does, it’s really tense!