Jeremy Saulnier’s follows up Blue Ruin (2014) with the gloriously entertaining Green Room (2015), a siege movie that pits pit bulls and murderous Neo-Nazis against a young punk band. The Ain’t Rights are a punk band touring the country and desperate for money and gigs. They syphon gas from parked cars and scrounge anything they can get. When a desperately sad lunch time gig at a Mexican restaurant doesn’t pay off how they expected they grab the chance to play in some back woods joint, even though they’re warned that the group are a bit extreme.”Just don’t talk about politics,” they’re told by their connection. Singer Tiger (Callum Turner), guitarist Sam (Alia Shawkat), bassist Pat (Anton Yelchin) and drummer Reece (Joe Cole) load up the van and motor off.
In the backwoods the venue organiser David (Blue Ruin’s Macon Blair) gives them the deal, “Don’t leave your shit in the corridor. It’s a fire hazard,” as the group slowly take in the Nazi White Power iconography. The booted and braced skin heads glower at them with open venom, but the band doesn’t forfeit their punk spunk, launching into a brilliant rendition of the Dead Kennedys’ Nazi Skins (F*ck Off!), before getting the skins on their sides with their own high energy hardcore. Just as they think they might have gotten away with it, and $350 richer, a body is discovered in the green room and The Ain’t Rights find themselves suddenly trapped with a hostage, a big fat revolver and growing band of skins who want to cover up the crime and do away with the witnesses.
The leader of the group is Darcy, played with a sublime understated charm by Patrick Stewart. His silky reasonableness belies his obviously villainous intentions and his offhand toxic hatreds. As with Jim Mickle and Adam Wingard, Saulnier seems intent on creating fascinating, witty and devilishly entertaining takes on classic genre cinema with an Eighties vibe. The siege is played out with all the visceral inventiveness of Sam Peckinpah’s Stray Dogs or John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, grounded in an intricately realised and scummy reality. The Nazi nightclub, with its puddles of beers, posters and graffiti is an inspired choice of battleground and the naïve punk band with one exception are utterly ill-equipped to deal with the danger, reluctant to be violent. They fortunately find an ally in the victim’s friend (Imogen Poots), who turns out to be more resourceful and less squeamish than the group when it comes to fighting back.
The violence happens in gruesome and convincing meatiness: the weapons of choice being killer dogs, a box cutter and machetes. It helps as well that the victims are not the usual obnoxious teenagers, but an affable group of friends who you’ve grown to like, with Yelchin and Shawkat particularly funny. No one becomes a sudden hero and Saulnier’s cliché averse script doesn’t allow for a deus ex machina to come and save the day. Perhaps one revelation from the darker, gloomier Blue Ruin is how funny the film is: from the pranks and jokes of a band on the road – recognisable to anyone with even a passing experience of live music – to the throwaway lines and absurd situations that pepper the later scenes. Scary and funny by turns, Green Room has the potential to become a cult hit, with a genuine midnight movie appeal, and furthers the growing reputation of this young director.
The 68th Cannes Film Festival takes place from 13-24 May 2015. For more Cannes coverage, simply follow this link.
John Bleasdale | @drjonty