Review – Green Room

If Blue Ruin served as his calling card, then this visceral, anarchic work of slaughterhouse filmmaking firmly marks Jeremy Saulnier as one of genre cinema’s most formidable young talents.

If John Carpenter's ultimate legacy is to help sire a new generation of genre filmmakers with as much talent and guts as Jeremy Saulnier, then he's given us a rich gift indeed

If John Carpenter’s ultimate legacy is to help sire a new generation of genre filmmakers with as much talent and guts as Jeremy Saulnier, then he’s given us a rich gift indeed

The signature of maestro John Carpenter has been etched over a plethora of glorified B-pictures over the last few years and the influence of the bearded one is all over Green Room.

Cinema is nothing if not cyclical, so it makes sense that Carpenter – a child of the 1950s – was drawn to classics of the period like The Thing From Outer Space (1951) for The Thing (1982) and much of Hitchcock’s oeuvre for his various horror classics. Fast forward to today and the work of Carpenter has clearly formed a lasting impression on Saulnier and other directors whose formative film education included the likes of Halloween (1978) and Escape From New York (1981).

Green RoomIn the case of Green Room, Saulnier has readily acknowledged the debt he owes to Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13 (1976); itself a remake of the John Wayne western Rio Bravo (1959). However, to pass this off as a knock-off would do a grave disservice to what is a work of real substance – one that claws under the skin and in the psyche. Besides, Saulnier has also cited First Blood, Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs and nihilistic 80s classic River’s Edge as influences, while the poster pays more than a passing nod to The Clash’s London Calling cover.

The plot bubbles around the horrific ordeal suffered by the members of The Ain’t Rights, a down-at-heels punk band of young misfits that accepts a paycheck to play to a bunch of neo-Nazi skinheads in a fleapit venue stuck out in the middle of nowhere. When one of them witnesses something they shouldn’t they are forced to hole themselves up in the titular green room while the menacingly calm Darcy (Patrick Stewart) is content to solve the problem by any means necessary.

Something Ain't Right: The band get the gig booking from hell in Green Room

Something Ain’t Right: The band get the gig booking from hell in Green Room

As he showed in Blue Ruin, Saulnier is one for subverting our expectations and Green Room plays out in unexpected ways. Moments of hope are often violently snatched away, while each of Darcy’s followers are fully fleshed out characters and given more to do than simply look demented.

Kai Lennox’s Clark is undoubtedly a sociopath, but the bond he shares with his attack dogs is genuine and heartfelt, while also being exploitative. The use of dogs is often violently nauseating, which makes the final moments of the film so clever as our awful assumptions involving a pit bull which has found itself untethered are turned on their head.

Nazis: The Next Generation: Darcy (Patrick Stewart) and Gabe (Macon Blair) in Green Room

Nazis: The Next Generation: Darcy (Patrick Stewart) and Gabe (Macon Blair) in Green Room

Likewise, Macon Blair’s Gabe is at first portrayed as an unswervingly loyal lieutenant to Darcy, but as the events in the club unfold his doubts grow as quickly as his resentment. Whilst no doubt someone with authority among the rabble who frequent Darcy’s establishment, it’s clear he feels frustrated at not having the status he feels is owing to him and this culminates in fascinating ways.

Green Room has garnered plenty of column inches for its breathless tension and hardcore shocks, but it’s surprising just how little gore there is in the film. While it’s most notorious scene involving Anton Yelchin’s Pat making the mistake of leaning his arm outside the green room door is queasy viewing, the aftermath is only momentarily glimpsed and Saulnier leaves it to the viewer to use their adrenalin-fuelled imagination to fill in the blanks.

Amber (Imogen Poots) before things go very wrong in Green Room

Amber (Imogen Poots) before things go very wrong in Green Room

That incident aside, the band members – joined in the green room by Imogen Poots’ club regular Amber – are notable for largely making smart decisions under what are assuredly stressful circumstances. Such is the bleakness of their plight you genuinely question whether any of them will make it out alive and Saulnier once again subverts things by maiming and killing off cast members in a wholly unexpected order.

Despite once again playing a softly spoken leader a la Professor X and Captain Picard, it’s fair to say Stewart is playing against type as Darcy and is clearly having a ball. He imbues the character with effortless authority and a cold pragmatism that largely keeps him one step ahead of everyone else. That said, you get the sense that Darcy would much prefer to be anywhere else apart from where he is – something he lets slip late on when, in response to Pat’s exhausted, bewildered utterance “This is a nightmare”, he quietly responds “For us all…”.

If John Carpenter’s ultimate legacy is to help sire a new generation of genre filmmakers with as much talent and guts as Jeremy Saulnier, then he’s given us a rich gift indeed.

Review – Blue Ruin

If revenge is a dish best served cold, then it’s never tasted so deliciously chilly than this stripped-back modern classic.

Concluding his Kickstarter pitch, Jeremy Saulnier stakes his career on the promise that he'll make good on those willing to put their faith in his film. After watching Blue Ruin, it's safe to say that faith has been hugely rewarded

Saulnier staked his career on the promise that he’d do good by those willing to put their faith in his film. After watching Blue Ruin, it’s safe to say that faith has been hugely rewarded

Looking for funding to help complete his sophomore feature through Kickstarter, writer-director Jeremy Saulnier pitched Blue Ruin as “not your standard revenge film. It does not glorify violence; it does not justify violence. It does the opposite”.

Thank goodness the public stepped in to hand over their hard-earned cash to help Saulnier deliver on that promise and turn in a truly subversive take on the traditional revenge picture.

Dwight (Macon Blair) prepares for a grisly deed in Blue Ruin

Dwight (Macon Blair) prepares for a grisly deed in Blue Ruin

Beach bum Dwight’s (Macon Blair) sheltered and reclusive life takes a hellish turn when he receives sickening news from an unlikely source. The revelation sets Dwight on a self-destructive path of revenge that leads to a bloody and unremitting aftermath he is ill-prepared for.

Blue Ruin has invited comparisons to the Coens, specifically their noirish debut Blood Simple, although the sombre and haunted No Country For Old Men feels like a more suitable reference point, right down to the similarity of the two films’ posters.

Dwight's (Macon Blair) descent begins in Blue Ruin

Dwight’s (Macon Blair) descent begins in Blue Ruin

The comparison to Joel and Ethan’s work is understandable, but somewhat depressing as it underlines just how rare films of this ilk are in American cinema.

Revenge movies invariably fall into the tried and tested constraints described by Saulnier in his Kickstarter pitch and adopt an ends-justify-the-means approach. Those films tend to conclude with the ‘happy ending’ of the revenge having been successfully realised, but Blue Ruin takes the entirely darker approach of showing what happens next.

Sam (Amy Hargreaves) takes her brother Dwight (Macon Blair) to task in Blue Ruin

Sam (Amy Hargreaves) takes her brother Dwight (Macon Blair) to task in Blue Ruin

If history has taught us anything, it’s that violence begets violence and Saulnier’s picture isn’t afraid to have Dwight traverse an increasingly bleak and bloody road to hell.

The violence, when it does come, is startling and visceral. There are no winks at the audience or satisfied one-liners; merely chaos, confusion and terror.

Ben (Devin Ratray) shows Dwight (Macon Blair) the ropes of how to use a gun in Blue Ruin

Ben (Devin Ratray) shows Dwight (Macon Blair) the ropes of how to use a gun in Blue Ruin

Clocking in at exactly 90 minutes, the film doesn’t waste a single shot. Dwight is shown in the near-wordless opening reel as a pretty methodical guy, all be it someone living out of a rusted old car. Upon receiving his news, he quickly turns his attention to the mission at hand, but it’s when the act of revenge is complete that Dwight discovers any semblance of control he had no longer exists and all bets are off.

Dwight (Macon Blair) puts those gun skills to test in Blue Ruin

Dwight (Macon Blair) puts those gun skills to test in Blue Ruin

As much as this is Saulnier’s film, so too is it Blair’s. It’s a refreshing performance, one that has a through-line of everyman authenticity to it. Dwight’s no macho action hero; he’s a broken shell with nothing to live for except to save his sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves) and her kids from harm. Blair’s saucer-like eyes are deeply expressive and sell the fear and bewilderment his character endures throughout.

Concluding his Kickstarter pitch, Saulnier staked his career on the promise that he’d do good by those willing to put their faith in his film. After watching Blue Ruin, it’s safe to say that faith has been hugely rewarded.