Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Jeremy Sauntier

Stars: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart, Macon Blair, Callum Turner, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Eric Edelstein, Mark Webber.

Cinematographer turned director Jeremy Saulnier has begun to establish himself as an exciting and inventive filmmaker on the independent scene. His previous film was Blue Ruin, an edgy and nasty little revenge thriller that played well on the festival circuit. His latest film Green Room is a smart but harrowing and intense horror thriller which is a stylishly constructed throwback to some of the classic exploitation horror films of the 70s and 80s, films from the likes of John Carpenter and more recent horror directors like Adam Wingard. It heralds a breakthrough to more mainstream filmmaking, and it announces Saulnier as a talented director to watch.

The Ain’t Rights are a struggling punk rock band consisting of lead singer Tiger (Callum Turner, from the recent epic miniseries War And Peace, etc), guitarist Sam (Arrested Development star Alia Shawkat), bassist Pat Anton Yelchin (from Star Trek and Fright Night, etc) and drummer Reece (Joe Cole, from the recent remake of Secret In Their Eyes, etc). On the tail end of a fairly unsuccessful tour of America’s northwest they are broke, sleeping rough in their clapped out tour van, and desperate for a gig to earn a little money. They play a gig arranged by a sleazy radio host, which goes badly. To make up for it, he arranges for them to play another small gig. It turns out to be at a sleazy out of the way club in front of a crowd consisting mainly of neo-Nazi skinheads and rednecks.

The gig somewhat surprisingly goes across rather well, despite their dubious choice of opening song, a cover of a Dead Kennedy’s hit Nazi Punks F*** Off. But as the band are leaving a couple of the members witness a fairly gruesome murder in a backroom. The situation then quickly turns deadly. The band find themselves holed up in the backroom with a corpse on their hands and the club’s bouncer (Eric Edelstein) as a hostage. A siege mentality develops.

The club’s manager Gabe (Macon Blair, a regular in Saulnier’s films) tries to negotiate a solution. He then calls in the club’s soft spoken and urbane owner Darcy Banker (Patrick Stewart) to sort out the mess. The cold blooded Darcy’s solution is pretty simple. He wants all evidence of the murder and the band’s existence wiped out. Slowly the body count rises, and there are some quite grisly elements. The skinheads are heavily armed, with guns, knives, baseball bats, shotguns, machetes, and at one point they even unleash a couple of vicious pit bull terriers on the hapless band members. Some scenes are certainly not for the squeamish, and the special makeup effects from Jessica Needham contribute to the gore.

Clearly influenced by siege films like Assault On Precinct 13 and David Fincher’s Panic Room, in which a small group of protagonists battle against overwhelming odds, Saulnier expertly ratchets up the claustrophobic tension and the suspense mounts as we wonder who will be the next to meet a rather grisly end. Saulnier doesn’t pull his punches here and some of the graphic violence is quite brutal and nasty. His direction is quite fluid and tight. However, he manages to inject small moments of dark humour into the material. As with Blue Ruin, he deftly manages to invert many of the tropes of the genre.

Production designer Ryan Warren Smith has created a dingy and rather grungy looking nightclub which is the perfect setting for the mayhem that follows. Sean Porter’s moody cinematography adds to the grubby texture and his subdued lighting enhances the dark tone of the material. Most of the music in the film was written by members of Saulnier’s former punk rock band, which lends further authenticity to the material, while his regular composers Brooke and Will Blair provide a retro sounding synthesiser driven electronic score.

Saulnier draws solid performances from his small cast as he puts them through a physical wringer here. Yelchin is effective as the seemingly wimpy guitarist, while an almost unrecognizable Imogen Poots is good as Amber, an innocent bystander caught up in the deadly events but who proves very resourceful. Stewart gets a rare opportunity to play a psychopathic villain here, and he brings a sense of authority to the role. But I found him scarier and more menacing in Richard Donner’s thriller Conspiracy Theory in which he played a sinister doctor opposite Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts. Shawkat makes the most of her small role as the motormouthed guitarist.

Violent, gritty and hard hitting, Green Room is one of the more effective hardcore horror thrillers of recent years.



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