Jeremy Saulnier’s filmmaking debut, Blue Ruin, was a surprise when it was released back in 2014. The indie feature was surprisingly taut and dripping with dread. With Green Room, Saulnier shows what he can do with a different concept and more notable actors in his cast: something even more suspenseful.
The Ain’t Rights are a punk rock band barely scraping by; when their planned concert is cancelled just before they arrive, they’re hooked up with a replacement gig at a backwoods bar that happens to serve as a meeting place for local white supremacists. They play through the show, but before they can leave, they stumble upon the aftermath of a brutal crime and find themselves the targets of the white supremacists – to both eliminate them as witnesses and set them up as criminals.
Saulnier does a lot to set the Ain’t Rights up as a lived-in band. We see their camaraderie as they journey from place to place, siphoning off gas from parked cars to get them to their next location and living off of food scraps, while touring from one disinterested place to another. Those details help make their reactions to their eventual situation all the more believable, as they each react in a way that feels real. It helps that the white supremacists clearly have differing levels of interest in doing anything with the band. Some of the members are more violent, while others are relatively peaceful. As the bar’s owner, Patrick Stewart lords over the white supremacists with an eloquent malevolence. It’s a 180° change from Stewart’s most notable roles, and it makes all of the white supremacists all the more fearsome.
Green Room largely builds up its horror through atmosphere, but Saulnier isn’t afraid to go crazy with the violence. If anything, Saulnier is more than capable of lulling an audience into thinking the story may go in one direction, then shaking things up without warning. Combined with the chill of Patrick Stewart’s performance, Green Room is a disturbingly grim horror film – but one that knows just how to play with audiences in order to truly deliver.