Saulnier combines intelligent, beautiful cinematography, savage ultra-violence, and an unconventional narrative to create the strongest horror movie ever made. Green Room engenders more tension than any other film has yet to deliver.
Written & Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Starring Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, and Patrick Stewart
Rated R, for strong brutal graphic violence, gory images, language and some drug content
Released May 13, 2016
“This… is a nightmare.”
I was introduced to Jeremy Saulnier with Blue Ruin (2013)- a brutal revenge flick divergent of the absurd, impractical extravagance of its contemporaries. I didn’t love it, but I still felt it was important. I tell people to watch it. Like Saulnier, I have an affinity for revenge flicks. Who doesn’t, in some capacity? They’re stories of justice served, wrongs righted, and underdogs winning. One of my favorites growing up was James Wan’s Death Sentence (2007), a story that highlighted the fine line between righteously protecting what’s yours, and becoming the very evil you sought to destroy. Movies like this are all about living out those vigilante fantasies we find ourselves harboring in our daily lives, be they whimsical or serious- but the subject itself is challenging. Explore revenge cinema too deeply and you’ll find yourself in a world of sadism and exploitation.
REVENGE IS A DISH BEST SERVED COLD
Look at the Saw franchise- a film series based around torturing miscreants for their sins until they make amends and sacrifice their own body parts. I’ll admit, I made it through the first three of those movies, but after that, I threw my hands up. Looking back, I’m not sure why I even enjoyed the trilogy. It may have had something to do with their unique style, the awesome theme song, and Donnie Wahlberg’s performance, but they haven’t held up for me.
At the other end of this spectrum, you’ve got revenge movies like the John Wick franchise. Movies in this category tend to come out as extremely stylized action spectacles that portray the protagonist as a superhero. Don’t get me wrong, they have their place, but they can be dry. They can lose the essence of what it means to take revenge. They lack reality to point of losing relatability, and if the revenge doesn’t feel justified to the audience, it just isn’t satisfying. Blue Ruin attempts to show revenge for what it really is- damaging to the avenger, counterproductive, and messy. There is no happy ending. It’s not a story of a meek high school student that gets carried away on the shoulders of his cheering peers after standing up to a bully.
THE “INEPT PROTAGONIST TRILOGY”
Blue Ruin was preceded by a film with about half the budget, Murder Party (2007), which I just didn’t get. It felt like it was trying to be funny, but was just strange and went on for far too long. Honestly, it just felt like what it was- a movie made by an unknown filmmaker with limited resources, a wild imagination, and a fondness for horror. But man, did he step up to the plate with Blue Ruin and then knock it into outer space with Green Room. Yes, Green Room– the movie we’re talking about here. Green Room is the final installment in what Saulnier calls his “Inept Protagonist Trilogy.” In these films, the central character(s) are up against seemingly impossible odds which they are in no way equipped to handle. I guess that’s an accurate description of these movies. A lot of people talked about how stupid the characters in Green Room were, citing each decision they made as a bad one- a classic horror movie ingredient. I didn’t see it that way at all. They just did what they did. What happened, happened. In the end, (some of) the underdogs prevailed. It was in no way a “good-decision” horror movie like You’re Next (2011), but I didn’t pick up on the characters making “bad decisions” as a real element of the film.
THE HORROR, THE HORROR
Many categorize Green Room as a horror flick. That really makes me think. Typically, in horror there’s some sort of fantasy or science fiction. There might be monsters, or ghosts, or zombies, or curses. It’s rare to see a horror movie that moves beyond being just a thriller when it has a plot that could actually happen. You have to understand, I love the horror genre, but wow, does it have a lot of disappointing entries. Let’s talk about that for a moment. I compare horror movies to metal. They’re the most extreme of the genres, but they’re also the most difficult to execute. When they’re bad, they’re really bad, but when they’re good, all bets are off. It’s easy to see through the phoniness with these types of art. A lot of it looks and sounds the same because artists recycle stories, devices, themes, and styles to try to fit in. And don’t get me started on the atrocity of combining horror and metal (i.e. Saw II , Queen of the Damned ). My point is, attempting to make horror is not an easy job, but if you get it right, it’s going to leave its mark. What Saulnier does right with Green Room is that he infuses elements of horror into the filmmaking. What made Beloved (1998) good, if you can call it good, was the infusion of horror into its overall non-horror premise.
Before we go on, I have to talk about the cast. What everyone asks, is how Saulnier got Patrick Stewart for this film. The fact that Stewart plays the role of such a bad bad-guy in Green Room has actually been a marketing point. Now, I love Patrick Stewart. He proved he could portray commanding authority as Captain Jean-Luc Piccard. He has commanding authority in this film too, but as the leader of a vicious neo-Nazi gang. His presence in the film has grown on me, but at the time of its release, I didn’t really understand it. It was hard to accept. The rest of the skin-head gang was so well-cast that it was hard to see him amongst the others. Ultimately his inclusion (along with Macon Blair’s) adds a deeper layer to the group of antagonists. It makes them more dynamic when it might have been easy to just depict a bunch of stereotypical, racist, hillbilly scumbags.
I never hear anyone talk about Joe Cole’s interpretation of Reece. It’s probably my favorite in the whole film. The preparation he did for the role, his delivery of the dialogue, and the depiction of his character’s zeal make for an emotional performance.
I also have to mention Anton Yelchin as Pat, the main protagonist. He’s always a pleasure to watch- his voice and demeanor. I love him in Odd Thomas (2013) and Bury the Ex (2014). He’s perfectly cast in this one. Tragically, a freak accident took his life only one month after the film’s wide-release.
THIS IS WHAT THE EDGE OF YOUR SEAT WAS MADE FOR
For decades, filmmakers have attempted to create tension using music, extreme camera angles like close-ups or wide-shots, or long stretches of dialogue leading up to something big (for example, see the bar scene from Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds ). When Green Room got its wide-release in the U.S., I had heard of it, but it wasn’t really on my radar. One day, at a friend’s house, he mentioned this movie he’d seen. He told me I had to see it, and that I’d love it. “Let’s go right now; I’ll see it again,” he said. He didn’t tell me anything about it, which must’ve been killing him, but it was so worth it. From the moment the band locked themselves in the green room until the face-off with Darcy the next morning, I was literally on the edge of my seat, with my mouth wide open. The strongest (and tensest) moments are when the characters are deciding what to do with Big Justin, when Amber sees the red laces through the grate, when Pat’s sleeve catches on the side-view mirror while he’s holding Alan at gunpoint, and when Darcy fires his last shot. It’s a unique film-going experience, and that’s why we go, isn’t it? It’s not often that we leave the theater feeling like we really experienced something. It’s like when you laugh so hard you can’t breathe. Not just anything can make that happen, but we have to cherish those moments, for they are few and far between.