“We’re not keeping you here, you’re just staying.”
Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier’s thriller Blue Ruin took off above and beyond anyone’s expectations after a festival run a few years ago. Award-winning and one of the first VOD hits (in as much as that is possible), Blue Ruin established Saulnier as a promising young filmmaker with plenty of talent. Fortunately, his sophomore effort Green Room confirms that all the praise heaped on that guy was all deserved. If anything, it’s an even better and more satisfying genre flick that should be a viewing staple of those who enjoy blood-soaked entertainment for many moons to come.
The film kicks off by following around a young punk rock band (including the already missed Anton Yelchin and Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat) whose career isn’t exactly thriving. After siphoning some gas and playing a pretty pathetic show in a diner, they accept a last minute gig simply to pay their way home. Unfortunately, that gig ends up being at a gathering of white supremacists. Their show goes well, but things take a troubling term afterwards when the band stumbles onto a murder. They’re quickly locked in the room with a corpse, a burly punk, and Imogen Poots. The neo-nazis get paranoid (as they often do) and call up their leader Patrick Stewart who brings along a few back up Nazis with machetes and dogs. From there, things get ugly.
After spending just enough time rambling along with the bandmates to ensure that viewers are enamoured with them, Saulnier throws his film straight into siege/survival horror mode. The situation is hostile and intense, which Saulnier milks for the maximum tension possible before releasing it with grisly bursts of violence and dangly bits of gore. The suspense is relentless and the director cleverly toys with his audience by alternating between conforming to and departing from genre conventions. Sure, as with most films of this style you can assume that the most famous faces in the cast will be the last one’s standing, but aside from that all bets are off.
The cast are also uniformly excellent, which really helps sell the intensity and believability of the somewhat ridiculous situation. In particular, Stewart is stellar as the villain (wisely keeping his performance subtle by evil neo-Nazi standards), while both Yelchin and Poots do great work growing from lost kids in trouble into genre bad-asses. The only real bum note in the movie is the surprisingly soft finale given the wild ride leading up to it. However, even that kind of works since it’s ultimately set up to a sick punchline that caps off the movie’s waves of dark humor.
By mixing genre-knowhow, fantastic visuals, eccentric characters, bleak humor, and cynical stylization, Jeremy Saulnier turns Green Room into a horror/thriller that you would believe the Coen Brothers’ made early in their career if they were willing to dabble that deeply in the dark side. For this type of genre flick, there’s no bigger compliment.
Green Room debuts on Blu-Ray in a nice, if decidedly budget package. The movie was shot in a deliberately grungy and cheap aesthetic so don’t expect much vibrancy, that would kill the mood. However, the style of the film was faithfully retained with deep inky blacks and spatters of rich detail (especially during any sequence of literal splatter). The sound mix is a healthy mix of piercing punk and discomforting ambience. Saulnier’s movie certainly boasts plenty of atmosphere and unease and the HD presentation ensures that all of those effects hit home with maximum impact.
Unfortunately there aren’t many special features to go around to supplement the experience. There’s a ten minute EPK (electronic press kit) full of talking heads from the cast and crew that offers some nice tidbits of information, but ultimately never digs much deeper than a soundbite. Thankfully Jeremy Saulnier delivers a pretty fantastic audio commentary to compensate. The motor mouthed movie-maker is clearly passionate about his personal punk horror project and dives into all sorts of fascinating details about the conception of his ideas and the battery of the high speed production. It’s a great track for both low budget filmmakers and those who aspire to such things. Sadly, there’s nothing more included on the disc, but for a grimely little genre movie that’ll do. After all, these things are supposed to grow in cult stature over a few years before anniversary special edition releases arrive, right?