Art Smitten

On Air

Review: Green Room


Green Room is the latest film by Jeremy Saulnier, an American filmmaker whose two previous films, Murder Party (2007) and Blue Ruin (2013), both explore and analyse violence in various forms and settings. And now Green Room, which premiered at the Cannes film festival in 2015, extends this obsession to even darker territory. It centres on a punk band who goes to play at a small concert venue in the backwoods of Oregon, witnesses a murder, and is immediately taken hostage in the green room of the film’s title and not allowed to leave. From then on, things only get worse. We start to find out more and more about the concert venue and the people behind it, the vice-like tension grows and grows and grows, and the blood of many a character is unceremoniously spilled.

The cast includes Anton Yelchin and Alia Shawkat as members of the band, as well as Macon Blair, who’s acted in and co-produced all of Saulnier’s films. And, in an out-of-type casting, we have Patrick Stewart who excels as the owner of the venue, the main villain of the film. His performance is sinister and sociopathic, and is slightly reminiscent of Ben Kingsley’s Don Logan from Sexy Beast, in manner and appearance. It’s the type of performance where it’s the reserved and contained nature of the character that provides the fear and intimidation, and not the explicit violence. Importantly, he’s the type of villain who is never directly violent, but rather manipulates everyone around him into violence.

And yes, the film is violent, but it’s the same kind of sad and brutal violence that Saulnier has exhibited in his previous films, the kind of violence that really makes a strong point against it. The film takes no pleasure in its violence – not once in the film is the violence glorified or even shown as something for the audience to enjoy, whether it’s being doled out by the “good guys” or the “bad guys”, a distinction that in itself becomes increasingly blurred as the film goes on and everyone is forced into a situation of kill or be killed. In this way Saulnier raises many questions about the nature of the violence displayed by the characters, delving into the human psyche and finding out just what they’re capable of. (I’m reminded of Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1972) where an ordinary teacher, a self-avowed pacifist, played by Dustin Hoffman, is put into an extreme situation and has no choice but to react very violently – and indeed Peckinpah in general is perhaps an apt comparison to Saulnier’s work to date – both are directors whose films examine violence and attitudes to violence in impressively intricate detail.)

Green Room is one of those rare films that is able to captivate you and capture that captivation, not letting go for the entirety of the film. It’s gripping, horrifying and has just the right doses of very dark humour to tide you through the terror. Not for the faint of heart, but if you want to be taken for an intense, gory thrill-ride, then this is just the film for you.

Green Room is out now exclusive to Cinema Nova.

Review written by Ben Volchok