Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin was a slow burn about the conflict between ruthless people and people who haven’t yet learned to be ruthless, but they’re getting there. His latest movie, Green Room, is the same thing, but without the slow. Green Room gets right to the burn and sustains it with the intensity of white phosphorous. This might sting a little. As Saulnier lets loose with bullets, fangs, and blades, Green Room isn’t shy about painting the walls red. Startlingly good effects remind us of the unpleasant fact that we’re all just flesh.
The basic story isn’t unusual. Events A, then B, then C roll out almost like clockwork (although the strangely poignant Y followed by the absurd Z are sure signs of Saulnier’s talent). You’ve seen this set-up before. What you haven’t seen is these people rolling out these events in this place. Saulnier has described Green Room as punk war horror, which has a “you got peanut butter in my chocolate” feel. It’s a bit like Bone Tomahawk, another recent horror hybrid. And like Bone Tomahawk, it’s not afraid to unleash brutality on characters you’ve come to care about.
These character are a group of likable young slackers. Yeah, they’re in a punk band, but don’t hold that against them. They seem like the kind of kids who are smart and well-intentioned enough to eventually grow out of it. You already know Anton Yelchin from Star Trek and Alia Shawkat from Arrested Development. Imogen Poots might be hard to recognize under that bad haircut. You’ll meet an actor named Joe Cole, who I’d seen trapped underwater with Danny Huston and Matthew Goode in a movie called Pressure. I hope to see more of Cole. A handful of really good character actors — including Macon Blair from Blue Ruin — fill in the blanks admirably. Patrick Stewart makes a chillingly effective ringleader presiding over the hardcore grand guignol.
Saulnier’s concept of what evil lurks in Oregon’s forests is like a nightmare version of Kelly Reichardt’s movies, which suggest Oregon as place populated by conflicted but mostly decent people, a little too smart for their own good. You don’t expect Green Room to happen in this laid back wet chill. You’d expect it in the open desert where the heat drives people mad or in remote jungles far from the taming influence of civilization. This must be what it was like when people went to theaters in 1972 to see an adventure movie about some guys going canoeing for a weekend. Little did they know they were about to watch Deliverance.
Green Room is currently in limited release. It opens wide on April 29.