Director Jeremy Saulnier’s 2013 thriller Blue Ruin, was a film that effectively employed a long-fuse strategy to build a sense of dread. A simple revenge tale, it was the sort of movie that was perpetually overcast, both physically and thematically, one you knew would end badly, yet so compelling in execution that you had to see it through to the end.
His second feature, Green Room employs a similar approach but has a sense of urgency to it that winds up making the viewer as antsy as its wayward protagonists. The plot is one of economy and has become a bit of a worn out trope in the horror genre. Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. A group of young men and women – this time a beleaguered punk-metal band – take a wrong turn by agreeing to play a rather shady gig. Desperate for money, they wind up performing at a private club, deep in the woods. Of course, nothing is at it seems and after they witness a murder, they end up fighting for their lives.
Yeah, this story is as old as the hills but Saulnier’s script is smart in the way it extends the premise and in the creation of its characters. The potential victims at its center are much more than just fodder for the resident evil. Smart, resourceful and likable, they provide the viewer with a rooting interest and Saulnier with agents of plausible narrative change. Chief among them is Pat (Anton Yelchin), who’s able to remain calm under pressure, Reece (Joe Cole) who’s much more than the muscle of the group and Amber (Imogen Poots) whose frail physicality belies a ferocity to survive. Not all of them make it, yet unlike most films of this sort, when any of them fall, we feel their absence.
Perhaps the most effective element of the movie is the villain of the piece, Darcy a white supremacist who’s runs the compound where the action takes place. Screen veteran Patrick Stewart brings a calm assurance to the role that proves chilling. This isn’t a man who rants, raves and froths at the mouth. Rather, he’s rational, levelheaded and very, very sure that he’s in the right where his bigoted views are concerned. The actor’s ability to ground this character in reality makes him all the more chilling. Looking like a kindly grandfather, Darcy personifies that sort of rational sounding evil that slowly permeates a society and kills it from within, the kind that’s recognized only after it’s too late.
Too be sure, Saulnier goes to the well once too often as far as failed attempts and retreats into the compound are concerned. That being said, he employs an interesting plot twist at the one-hour mark that’s a little bit of genius and is able to create a sense of terror that never flags. Green Room may be a small movie in terms of budget and location, but what it has to say about evil in our times and the aggressive nature in which it needs to be combated makes it a timely film that transcends its genre trappings.