First published by Real Crime Magazine
Although his feature debut Murder Party (2007) built a cult following, writer/director Jeremy Saulnier only really attracted critical attention – and the FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes – with his revenger Blue Ruin (2013). His third feature Green Room shares with Blue Ruin a colour-coded title, and the introduction of ordinary, non-heroic characters into genre scenarios.
Green Room begins with Oregon punk band the Ain’t Rights waking up stranded in their tour van, without gas. Running, both literally and metaphorically, on empty, the broke band syphons some petrol from a nearby vehicle. This act of petty theft is important – because here, criminality ramifies, leaving a trail of unforeseen consequences.
“I’ve got a dumb idea,” bassist Pat (Anton Yelchin) tells the band before they go onstage at a backwoods roadhouse filled with local white supremacists – and so the Ain’t Rights open their performance in truly punk spirit with a cover version of Dead Kennedys’ Nazi Punks Fuck Off. This provocation is not linked directly to the band’s subsequent predicament, but it establishes the defiance and resistance that will prove their best defence when, as the establishment’s owner Darcy (Patrick Stewart, brilliantly against type) puts it, “things have gone south.” Accidentally witnessing a murder’s aftermath, Pat and his band find themselves locked in the green room with the victim’s friend Amber (Imogen Poots) and an aggressive bouncer, as Darcy’s army of thugs (and trained dogs) sets about violently erasing any evidence of wrongdoing on the premises.
Saulnier allows all the familiar elements of a siege movie to play out, while raising the already tense stakes with relatable, down-to-earth characters – making their injuries, pain and worse all the more keenly felt. The film also offers sidelong glances at the hierarchy which Darcy has carefully put in place amongst his followers, cynically mouthing extreme right ideology to protect his own illegal business interests. This is where Green Room takes on the complexion of an American allegory, exposing how the poor and the marginalised are easily manipulated into serving the ends of their political masters. For here, alongside the snarling attack dogs, there are also plenty of lap dogs, blindly doing demagogue Darcy’s bidding as they too are caught in a trap (poverty, crime) from which there is no easy escape, their only – and absurdly coveted – reward a pair of red boot laces. It’s less subtle than Blue Ruin, but a thrilling breakout.
© Anton Bitel