With the release of his breakthrough revenge thriller Blue Ruin in 2013, writer-director Jeremy Saulnier earned himself comparisons to early Coen brothers and even Hitchcock by demonstrating a flair for brutal suspense and dark humor. Fans of the indie hit were undoubtedly expecting something along the same lines for his follow-up, but while his new film Green Room delivers all of the things that made Blue Ruin great—in spades—it’s a whole other animal entirely.
While not exactly a horror film, Green Room shares a lot in common with the mumblegore movement that is producing some of this decade’s most exciting filmmakers. 2012’s V/H/S anthology was more or less the wellspring from which it sprung, making a name for filmmakers like the directorial collective Radio Silence, who went on to be part of last year’s best horror movie, Southbound, and director-writer team Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. Like Saulnier, whose debut was the 2006 no-budget horror film Murder Party, Wingard and Barrett move easily between genres with equal doses of humor and intensity, unleashing the horror-deconstructing You’re Next in 2013 before the even better 2014 crime thriller The Guest.
Saulnier may be the most promising young talent of all. Green Room’s completely out-of-left-field story of a punk-rock band trapped in the back room of a small club by a gang of vicious neo-Nazis could have been a laughable mess in less capable hands. But under Saulnier’s direction, it’s a tense, violent thriller that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.
That’s partly because of the talented cast that quickly establishes a reason to care about this story: not just Patrick Stewart, who seems to love playing against type as a chilling White Power mastermind, but especially the young actors in the punk band, like Anton Yelchin (Chekov in the Star Trek reboot films) and Imogen Poots. And also because, as in Blue Ruin, the plot has a long line of twists, surprises and just plain smart touches that subvert convention at every opportunity.
GREEN ROOM ***1/2 (out of four) With Patrick Stewart, Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots. Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier. Rated R. 95 minutes.