Cannes: Green Room review

Jeremy Saulnier’s feature film début, Murder Party, may have passed by relatively quietly, but his follow-up, Blue Ruin, made a lot of noise. It was a skilfully made revenge thriller that successfully traded in the unexpected, taking directions that felt entirely natural but were always surprising.

The very same is true of Saulnier’s latest, Green Room, a horror thriller that Saulnier himself describes as a ‘siege movie.’ The siege he’s referring to takes place at a remote punk venue, where Hardcore band Ain’t Rights are playing a gig that will pay them just $350. It will be enough to get them back on the road, and save them from syphoning gas from other people tanks just to keep moving.

Saulnier himself is doing a little better than that. There has been a step up in budget from Blue Ruin, and as a result, there are better-known actors in key roles. Perhaps the two most recognisable faces in the band are Anton Yelchin and Alia Shawkat, both of whom look perfectly at home on the stage and are very convincing in their respective roles. Likely the most recognisable of all is Patrick Stewart, delivering a scarily restrained performance as the primary antagonist.

These characters, like the others in the film, are somewhat ‘heightened,’ the kind of folk that could exist in real life but who you won’t bump into very often. The majority of the supporting cast play violent right wing skinheads, but their characters never seem like simple characters, and only partly because they’ve got a secret that they’re keen to cover up.

Green Room may have a lean running time and Saulnier’s primary focus is on keeping the film full of thrills and forever moving forwards, but there’s always enough time given to ensuring the audience can grasp the characters’ motivations. This means that when the film really kicks into its highest gear, becomes more violent and action-packed, the audience will care about the people involved, root for the band but also understand what the  about the people involved, rooting for the band members but also understanding what the villains of the piece are actually trying to achieve.

When the violence comes, it really does come. Characters deploy pitbulls who are trained to kill, machetes and shotguns, and the outcome is brutal and gory, but realistic. The audience can expect to jump, squirm and bite their nails.

As proved with Blue Ruin, Saulnier can turn the audience into his plaything, manipulating them to the finest degree. Green Room has been plotted out with great consideration for every small detail, and a talent for foreshadowing that thriller writers should be taking notes on. The precision of the finer points of the film ensure it stands head and shoulders above so many other horror thrillers.

In my review of Blue Ruin from Sundance London I commented that I was a fool to have missed it in Cannes. I’m glad I didn’t make that mistake again. Saulnier’s latest is arguably even better than Blue Ruin, and I’m ready now to be the first in line for his next picture.