The opening film at Edinburgh’s Dead by Dawn festival was Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room, a Neo-Nazi punk horror thriller and welcome return to the screen after Saulnier’s 2013 thriller Blue Ruin. The film follows a small-time penniless punk band (Anton Yelchin, Callum Turner, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole) as they travel across the US to perform at an isolated venue. On arrival the group realize they’re playing for white supremacists, accidentally witness a murder, and get caught up in a vicious game of cat and mouse.
Saulnier’s film is quietly smart; it doesn’t draw attention to the fact its characters react appropriately in the heat of the moment. The film trusts its audience to be impressed without needing close-ups and gross amounts of slow-motion to revel in its own inventive brand of quick-thinking. Even the gore isn’t overused or exploited to the point where Green Room becomes a schlocky slice of fun, danger permeates this world and the immediacy of the violence persuades us it does. There is little waffle or down-time, proving Saulnier clearly has tremendous focus on what matters to his story and what doesn’t.
Set and use of location are two of the most impressive parts of Green Room, unsurprisingly considering a sense of space is integral to how the dynamics of the film affect us. By the time everything kicks off we already have a perfect idea of how the gig-space is laid out, where we can be attacked from, and where our characters can go. In this sense, Green Room is a home invasion film; it sets up an apparent safe space then spends the rest of the film navigating the divide between the safe and dangerous, surprising us with new dangers that almost always revolve around invasion and who has the most information.
Patrick Stewart in a horror film is a dream come true, but maybe not in the way you want. Stewart’s comic vibe falls away, as does his reputation as one of the finest theatrical actors ever to grace the boards, instead he plays it down, milking the softly spoken elements of an oddly gentle business man. Much of that comes down to the fact Saulnier isn’t painting punks and skinheads as a consistent collective of racially charged people. In fact Green Room is about how music and personality are totally different things, Saulnier is actively trying to separate fashion styles from music tastes and polemical discourses, pointing out that not all skinheads are racists and vice versa, which is a really productive message considering the usual stereotype. Oddly, Saulnier manages to humanize a large group of people who could otherwise have become evil caricatures by showing them first and foremost as functioning humans who use racism as a tool to create an “other”.
Much of that is down to the eclectic but massively impressive cast: up-coming stars like Anton Yelchin, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, and Imogen Poots make superb young leads. On the other hand genre regulars like Marc Webber (13 Sins, Antibirth), Eric Edelstein (Patchwork), Kai Lennox (Apartment 143), and Saulnier’s lucky charm Macon Blair, all lend suitably gravitas and humanity to a group of potentially one-dimensional baddies, particularly Blair. Though Green Room never quite feels as emotionally involving, or tense, as it should have, it does manage to execute some real nasty gore which wrangles audience reactions just the same. The quality of the action along with the speed with which Saulnier deploys it, and the dedication of the cast, are a perfect combo, instigating shock, amazement, and horror with various degrees of wincing.
Green Room easily succeeds as a thrilling twist on home invasion themes with plenty of balls, guts, and brains to impress from angsty opening to dramatic conclusion. Superb casting puts everyone on a level playing field, even with a villainous Stewart skulking around.
Dir. Jeremy Saulnier
Stars: Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Mark Webber, Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart, Joe Cole, Callum Turner