Although he had made a series of short films and one horror-comedy feature by the mid-oughts, director Jeremy Saulnier became a household name on the indie film circuit when he came out with 2013's Blue Ruin, a moody and ominous revenge flick set in the American backwoods that manages the impeccable feat of providing an overabundance of suspense even though the audience most surely knows the movie's ultimate dour ending.
With Saulnier's most recent cinematic endeavor, Green Room, the filmmaker once again returns to rural America as he documents how a four-piece '80s punk band find themselves locked inside the green room of a skinhead-run music venue after witnessing a murder. While I avoid trailers for movies I review, and due to the fact that I subsequently don't read any publications about the making of those films, I had, in a preconceived way, envisioned Green Room to be an all-out horror gore-fest with less talk and more action.
While there is a visual cornucopia of practical effect carnage contained within the narrative, Saulnier's latest filmmaking effort reads more like a psychological thriller embodied in one pragmatic setting, a conceit that borrows heavily from an off-Broadway play or Linklater's Tape (without the anxious emotional brooding), eventually utilizing a Die Hard narrative device that takes place not in Nakatomi Plaza but in an illicit Oregon neo-Nazi entertainment establishment, an organization fronted and controlled by Sir Patrick Stewart.
Yes, you read correctly. Starfleet Captain Jean-Luc Picard has quickly transformed himself into the ringleader of an underground neo-Nazi enterprise. What is most jarring about Stewart's menacing persona is his calm, mild-mannered temperament that is on full display throughout the entire film. The respect, admiration and reverence that each racist skinhead has for this man is evident by their blind subservience to Stewart's every request and whim. Rather than barking orders, he simply asks for cooperation and his murderous instructions are dutifully carried out by the impressionable youth.
Stewart need not establish his dominance over his racist faction by machismo Scarface posturing, which ultimately makes his character all the more horrific. One is given the impression that if Stewart's patriarch were to suggest an all-out race war within their small Oregon community, many needless deaths would be reported on the nightly news. The post-modernist in me likes to view Green Room as documenting the honorable Captain Picard's past misguided life prior to commanding the USS Enterprise, making for one hell of an epic character arc that only genre fans can appreciate.
Making the narrative backdrop of Green Room even more frightening is the very real fact that Oregon is home to Volksfront, one of the most active neo-Nazi groups on the West Coast. And what do we fear the most? Those things that we can't understand. As simplified as rampant racism has become in the mass media, our heroic characters in this film fail to understand their tormentors' complex motivations and behavioral justifications.
What causes such vehement hatred? What are the dogmatic rules by which hate groups abide? What are the social norms in such a subgroup of the American population? By becoming trapped mice in a labyrinth of skewed philosophical ideas, what nightmarish experience can our well-intentioned '80s punks expect to encounter in every passing minute of this film?
This inability to completely comprehend their captors' intentions is what ultimately creates a heart-pumping, breath-stopping cinematic experience that will haunt the viewer from days on end after witnessing the psychological mindfuck that is Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room.