Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin) directs an unlikely siege movie starring Patrick Stewart as a neo-Nazi. Here’s Jordan Farley’s reaction…
Almost every year a film screening out of competition in the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes becomes the talking point of the festival, with whispered hyperbole (or justified praise) spreading along the Croisette like wildfire. Last year it was Whiplash, which topped many films of the festival lists. The sleeper hit this year? Punks vs neo-Nazi siege movie Green Room.
Jeremy Saulnier wrote and directed the film which debuted two years to the day after his last feature also played out of competition at Cannes – blistering revenge thriller Blue Ruin. Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Callum Turner and Joe Cole star as punk rock quartet Ain’t Rights, who end up reluctantly playing in a backwater neo-Nazi bar when another gig falls through. After their set they discover the body of a murdered girl in the green room, a friend of Imogen Poots’ Amber, and are detained at gunpoint while waiting for Patrick Stewart’s white supremacist leader Darcy to arrive. But the band quickly realise aren't getting out of the right wing retreat alive.
Saulnier started his feature directing career with horror comedy Murder Party, and though the tone couldn’t be more different here the two films do have one thing in common – crowd-pleasing grue. Green Room is remarkably grisly, with some top notch and never less-than-convincing gore. Arms are broken, men disembowelled with box cutters and more than one throat ripped out by the neo-Nazis' vicious Rottweilers. Needless to say, it’s not for the faint-hearted.
But the violence never feels gratuitous because Green Room is a surprisingly grounded siege. Only one door gets kicked down and not a single window is smashed in the whole film. Rather than resort to cinematic excess it plays the situation very straight, the characters responding in ways you believably think they might. The neo-Nazis are cold and calculating under the guidance of Stewart’s chilling Darcy while the bandmates are prone to panicking, as anyone staring death in the face would be. The result is a film that lacks the frenetic energy you might expect from one with Green Room’s eye-catching premise – Ain’t Rights’ punk performances (including a spectacularly ill-judged cover of the Dead Kennedy’s 'Nazi Punks Fuck Off') are as head-banging as the film gets – relying instead on a slower, more methodical horror.
The spectacularly grim atmosphere, sinister soundtrack and, of course, the siege set-up give the film an Assault On Precinct 13 vibe. And Saulnier continues to impress as a film-maker, with a particular knack for building tension and pulling the rug from under your feet in classic horror movie fashion. But - also in classic horror movie fashion - the characters are also incredibly slight (you'll peg the ones destined to be dog food 30 seconds in), the cast making the most of a largely forgettable line-up. Only Stewart and Poots leave much of an impression - Poots pulling Ripley duty as the victim who turns the tables, while Stewart shows a largely untapped talent for playing assertive villains.
Perhaps inevitably Green Room doesn’t quite live up to the hype it’s already generated at Cannes. The lack of edgy/violent films playing in or out of competition is partly to blame - Green Room is fabulous counter-programming to the worthy human dramas that make up the vast majority of this year’s festival entries. But regardless of expectations Green Room is a thrilling ride and a huge amount of (flawed) fun.
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