In writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s “Blue Ruin,” which put him on the map in 2013, the tension is controlled, measured; it follows an intentional plan of violence in a story of long-overdue revenge. In his follow-up, “Green Room,” Saulnier takes the opposite approach, in a horror story of the chaos and random chance of violence set in the world of hardcore punk shows. While “Blue Ruin” was openly emotional, burrowing into deep interfamilial rifts, “Green Room” throws strangers together to see how they fare in extreme situations, adding a touch of dry, morbid humor to the gruesome proceedings.
This switch-up is a kind of revelation for Saulnier, injecting a stream of purest punk smack right into the vein. “Green Room” just might be the kind of punk horror movie you never knew you always wanted, catalyzing disparate elements into a heady, bloody, loud stew of horror macerated with hardcore.
“Green Room” falls into the genre of thrillers where something goes very wrong and everyone involved subsequently makes poor choices, leading to an even worse situation. In this case, a young DIY hardcore band, Ain’t Rights, find themselves at a backwoods Oregon compound that’s just a shade too neo-Nazi for their taste. They’re only there to play a show in order to make enough gas money to get home to D.C. in their wretched van.
After their set, Pat (Anton Yelchin) goes to grab Sam’s (Alia Shawkat) phone from their dressing room and becomes a witness to a horrendous crime in the process. Thinking fast, security (Eric Edelstein) and the club manager (Macon Blair) barricade the band in the room, along with punk girl Amber (Imogen Poots), to keep them from calling 911 or going to the police. Soon, their boss (Patrick Stewart) shows up to contain the situation, with dogs and weapons and young men called Red Laces in tow.
The film wants to explore both the mayhem of violence and the banality of pure evil — when multiple murder is treated like mopping the floor and taking out the trash, a chore, a task. One of the scariest elements of the film is the nonchalant way in which the neo-Nazi movement becomes just another community outpost, just another club to join, with Stewart as a beleaguered leader. These aren’t goose-stepping, spittle-flying fascists — these are far more insidious because they seem normal, and they’re very organized.
Poots and Yelchin carry the film as innocent-faced strangers who band together to use their smarts and resourcefulness to combat the forces against them. In this film, brains faces brawn, and it’s never clear which one is going to prevail. The violence comes in bursts — a quick buckshot spatter of maiming or death. The pacing follows a fast-fast-slow pattern, with violence followed by long periods of introspection to ponder how one step, one choice changes the course of life.
Saulnier captures the atmosphere of the hazy, grimy, damp club, as well as rituals of hardcore culture, down to the nuts and bolts, down to the haircuts and jackets and shoes: Everything means something, everything has significance. Though the film expresses chaotic energy in music and violence, nothing about the filmmaking is random. Each detail is meticulously placed, threads stitched together to create the larger whole of a horror film that is just about perfect.
☆☆☆☆ out of 5
Cast: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart, Alia Shawkat, Macon Blair.
Director: Jeremy Saulnier.
Running time: 1:34.
Rated: R, for strong brutal graphic violence, gory images, language and some drug content.