For us pulp cinema fans, writer/director Jeremy Saulnier seems to be the new torch bearer, namely for his ability to inject large doses of humanity into exploitation genres – a category of films in which most characters are tools of action, figurines waiting to be disposed of in unique and interesting ways. Saulnier’s 2014 film, Blue Ruin, a revenge picture with a melancholic soul, was proof of this. So is Green Room, perhaps even more so. This time Saulnier’s B-movie trapping is the siege thriller – a touring hardcore band in need of money takes a gig at a neo-Nazi club and stumbles upon something far more sinister. Violence and horror ensues.
So to say that this is not an exploitation picture would be lying – Green Room is full of visceral, midnight movie nastiness, and Saulnier clearly has experience with the punk rock scene, chanelling the energy and chaos of the music into the violent chaos of the film. However, not only does Saulnier’s technical craft stand head and shoulders above other pulp filmmakers (his command of the camera and composition is top notch, he gets pitch perfect performances from his cast, and an Assault on Precinct 13 comparison is certainly warranted given his ability to build atmosphere and increasing dread) he’s also made a movie in which the violence is not self-serving. Indeed, Saulnier the screenwriter might be the star here – every instance of violence is an extension of character or a character’s beliefs. Here violence is depicted as awkward, and often clumsy. The band members, full of enough rebelliousness anti-establishment angst to siphon gas from strangers, are quickly stripped of their hardcore personas and trappings when confronted with a true threat, and true fear.
Herein lies the primary theme of the film, and also establishes Green Room as more than a vital, brutal schlock-fest and masterful command of craft. The way the band members shed their hardcore personas in favor of sheer terror (during an interview, one member sites the Cro-Mags as his “desert island band” and during the siege changes it to Prince) is not only a signifier of Saulnier’s brilliant humanization of the cast, but it also displays these characters for what they really are – passive. Behind the posturing and nonconformist ideals held by the punk rock scene are these hypocritical conformists “cool” enough to sing the Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” to a crowd of neo-Nazis, but conformist enough to play a show at this neo-Nazi club. They perpetuate, by being passive, evil and hatred. They allow it to fester. This lends Green Room an air of inevitability and fatalism, and that’s where its real nastiness lies.
Green Room presents violence and hatred as being conditioned, with the hardcore show a microcosm for the entire world (I don’t think it condemns or damns punk rock in any way, rather it understands that the core problem exists in larger communities as well). Punk has traditionally been a home for wayward youths and misfits who feel like they don’t belong, and can provide a sense of community, companionship, and a release of anger and rage (hardcore was a big part of my formative years, so I understand this well). Green Room gives us Darcy Banker (Patrick Stewart), a man who shapes youths and gives them a sense of community, but he’s a white supremacist, breeding hatred and violence with an air of mundanity and civility. Stewart underplays the role perfectly, his civility and practicality somehow making him scarier.
Green Room, like the attack dog unleashed on the band members, depicts violence and hatred as being conditioned (even the neo-Nazis lose some of their villainous tough-guy act and give in to pure human fear when confronted with the threat of death) and not necessarily inherent. Green Room is a vicious thriller with human beings at its center – and that makes it all the scarier. As compelling and lingering as Green Room is, this is a pure, nasty thriller at its core, and one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. Oh, and Imogen Poots has a handful of the most badass moments you’ll see in a movie all year.