REVIEW: Green Room

18 01 2016

This review originally appeared on Movie Mezzanine, for whom I covered Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX.

Jeremy Saulnier’s breakout film Blue Ruin depicted violence as an elemental force; a practically innate disposition of the human condition. In that spin on a classic revenge tale, Saulnier metes out precious little information on the characters hell-bent on destruction to highlight how shockingly natural these primal acts are.

His follow-up, Green Room, also takes violence as one of its major subjects – but here, the filmmaker shifts gears, depicting the savagery of human conflict as something aberrant to our very nature. As a punk rock band, barred off in a green room, wars against the group of neo-Nazis that hosted their show, acts of brutality take on an almost cartoonish tenor. For instance, someone’s mangled arm looks like a candy cane of flesh and blood, a sight Saulnier milks for all it’s worth to the tune of disgusted groans.

Green Room

This unnatural, unsettling violence provides heightened stakes for what otherwise might play like a simple hodgepodge of tropes from final girl” captivity or siege-style thrillers. Throwing in a group of white supremacists helps to add weight (especially when these groups are currently coming out of the woodwork to endorse Donald Trump’s presidential run). But while their violence may be exaggerated, Saulnier never strips them – or their trained attack dogs – of basic dignity. He even includes a sequence, beautifully shot by director of photography Sean Porter, which manages to find a bit of impressionistic poetry in the writhing bodies of their mosh pit.

To be clear, Green Room never condones the group’s ideology. The skinheads are still clearly the villains, but Saulnier’s choice to withhold immediate and unflinching condemnation allows some insight into what holds the group together. Their leader, Patrick Stewart’s Darcy, hardly matches the model of the charismatic authority figure. Instead, along with his tactical right hand man Gabe (Blue Ruin star Macon Blair), he evinces a magnetism of the calm and collected variety.

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That disposition stands in stark contrast to the manic array of rockers that constitute “The Ain’t Rights,” led by Anton Yelchin’s Pat and Alia Shawkat’s Sam. Even though their music pushes them to the fringes of performance venues, the group still lacks common sense and self-defense mechanisms. Still, Saulnier clearly feels a good deal of kinship with the punks and gives them dynamic personalities that prove oddly compelling. These vibrant characters ensure more colors are at play than just the red that dominates Green RoomB2halfstars

REVIEW: Blue Ruin

20 07 2014

Blue RuinIn a current moviemaking climate where thrillers keep getting bigger, louder, and more involved, “Blue Ruin” provides a welcome change of pace.  Rather than rev his film’s engine to see how hard he can push it, writer/director Jeremy Saulnier holds his movie back with immense restraint.  It’s a fascinatingly controlled slow burn that’s executed with the utmost precision, resulting in a chillingly minimalist piece to watch.

At times, Saulnier’s extreme exactitude does come off a little cold.  We never really connect to the characters, nor do we really understand the psychology motivating them.  But that seems to be Saulnier’s modus operandi with the film, and it works just fine because he commits to it fully.

It’s not about this specific story but rather about what compels people in general to seek violent retribution.  (When they’re both available for home viewing, “Blue Ruin” would make a fascinating double bill with summer 2014’s “The Rover.”)  Saulnier provides precious little backstory on what’s compelling the film’s main character, Macon Blair’s Dwight, to seek revenge at all costs.  We keep thinking some giant explanation is coming, but it never does.

Normally, such vagueness in a film is equivalent to noncommittal or pure lack of imagination.  In “Blue Ruin,” though, it means exactly the opposite.  Rarely has so little meant so much.  B+3stars