Visceral, lean and ingenious, this is a cult classic in the making. Anchored by a bone-chilling Patrick Stewart, this survivalist horror will come to stand head and shoulders above most efforts this year.
If there were any doubts about Jeremy Saulnier’s talents behind the camera as a director, this third feature does nothing but cement him as one of the most terrific and exciting talents exploding onto the scene.
Following on from his darkly comic and relentlessly thrilling Blue Ruin, his latest effort follows the ordeals of a punk-rock band who accidentally come across a murder scene in the venue of their gig and in turn, fight to survive the night against a cult of Neo-Nazi skinheads.
Immediately, what you get here is the sense of what is essentially a siege film. Locked in with only their wits to keep them alive, the band, fronted by Anton Yelchin, are tested to their limits. What is palpable from the beginning, and indeed over both his previous features, is the stripped down nature of the plot. Like Blue Ruin, it has a driving focus throughout and it keeps the plot steady and constantly moving forward. Often the fault here, with siege films, is that they can stagnate and be bogged down in the middle section with the addition of needless subplots and deviances away from the central plot. However, Saulnier, who also penned the script, keeps his picture focused on it’s objectives and has a clear eye on where it’s going straight from the off. Whilst this might seem like faint praise, I believe that it will largely fly below the radar, it’s the reason that this story works so brilliantly and comes together so well.
From a directorial standpoint, there’s seldom been a film this year that has impressed me as much as this. With it being set almost exclusively in a single location, Saulnier manages to weave and creep through every crevice that it has to offer. He manages to do this so effectively that we are able to even recognize rooms, passages, doors, floorboards, every nook and cranny and still be surprised at times. In addition to his ingenuity, he maintains a nail-biting intensity. Early scenes, whilst not as thrilling as what is to come, pulsate with an unusual eeriness and tension, serving as the appetizer for the main course. One especially noteworthy scene finds the band performing their set. It crackles and fizzes with a distinctly hard edge but then is wonderfully juxtaposed with a slowed down, slow motion scene of the crowds reaction, which seems both euphoric and chaotic simultaneously, supported by this ethereal electronica score. Of course, as witnessed from the promos and features, things do indeed turn sour and boy does the thunder come.
When things turn for the worse, this is where both Saunier and the cast, flex their considerable muscles. On one hand, the band known as ‘The Ain’t Rights’, are who we root for and they are certainly put through the ringer. As mentioned before, the band is headed by Anton Yelchin’s, and supported by Peaky Blinders alumnus Joe Cole, Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat and relative newcomer Callum Turner. Joined by the resourceful Imogen Poots, they really sell their characters. Terrified and hysterical, they never once feel fake or superfluous. For whole stretches of the film’s lean 95 minute running time, you are genuinely and heart-poundingly scared for them. The film’s plot hinges on their believability and they completely engross you from the off.
However, the film wouldn’t even have a smidgen of it’s fantastic core without Patrick Stewart’s jaw-droppingly astonishing antagonist. As the leader of a strand of far-right (‘basically extreme-left’ as a character points out) fanatics, he shows off an unconventionally sinister turn. His cold stare through the glasses he wears and the almost monotonous calm of his voice create a presence that is felt throughout as soon as he is introduced, despite not being onscreen for essentially half it’s running time. He is a villain of the purest form. Backed by Saulnier regular Macon Blair and a group of increasingly nasty skinheads, the threat is constant and often horrifying.
What’s also worth mentioning is that Saulnier understands that in order for violence to be effective, you have to sympathize with those in threat and deploy it in a manner, which will retain the visceral nature of the reality of violence. His understanding of this leads to the moments of extremely brutality that punctuate the nerve-shredding tension leaving the audience, including myself, audibly wincing and gasping. If you were under any impression that this wasn’t a horror, you will have by the end.
Green Room (2016), directed by Jeremy Saulnier, is distributed in the UK by Altitude Entertainment. Certificate 18.