***1/2 (out of five)
Writer / Director Jeremy Saulnier made a huge impression on the cineaste circuit in 2013 with Blue Ruin, a meditative and highly original take on the revenge thriller. It won him the FIPRESCI Director’s Fortnight Prize at Cannes. His follow-up, Green Room, joins the canon of “under siege” movies – Rio Bravo, Assault on Precinct 13, Night of the Living Dead, The Mist, From Dusk Till Dawn, Panic Room, Home Alone etc – not with louder bangs, scarier invaders or more bloodshed but with originality, wit and subversion.
Our besieged this time are a low-rent touring punk band, our location is the “green room” or band room of a backwoods Oregon tavern, and the invaders are skinheads of the Nazi-loving variety. We begin in the afternoon and head inexorably towards nightfall. But as the story hits the most essential beats this sub-genre demands, the screenplay and direction surprise us with off-beat timing and unusual methods: people die at odd times in odd ways. It is jarring only in that it upsets the rhythms we’re used to: it bucks formula even as it adheres to it, and vice versa.
The biggest switcherooni of all – which like all of them, remains subtle – is the characterisation of the grand poobah villain, Darcy, the senior member of this chapter of facists, played (delightfully surprisingly) by Patrick Stewart. There is no scenery-chewing going on here; Stewart plays this man as cautious, rational and quiet. Instead of a “villain”, we get a real man with disturbing beliefs. It actually took me quite a while to cotten on to what was going on with Darcy, so ingrained was I to assume that the head of a skinhead party, in a siege movie, needed to be an evil, violent maniac.
Anton Yelchin and the other members of the band are all fine, but on the besieged side, it is (once again!) Imogen Poots, as one of the skins caught on the wrong side of the locked door, who steals the show. She is just breathtakingly watchable. She is soooo ready for the Hollywood A List, and I’m soooo glad she hasn’t accepted that invitation yet. As long as she’s making intelligent indies, I’m buying them.