Opening a review with a word's definition is a bit pretentious, but while looking for synonyms writing this review, I read the definition of taut – which means both not having any slack, but also emotionally or mentally strained or tense.
Green Room is taut.
Green Room is a smart movie, somewhere between horror and thriller. It's an anxious experience, at times graphic, and succinct – delivering on everything the claustrophobic, machete-wielding poster promises with little to no fat.
A young punk band ends up trapped at a remote venue populated by murderous Neo-Nazis led by Patrick Stewart, with a cast of Alia Shawkat, Anton Yelchin, and Imogen Poots to name a few. Premise and cast, on point. The marketing singles out Patrick Stewart's against-type performance, but it's an all-around stellar group of actors. Macon Blair, star of writer/director Jeremy Saulnier's previous movie Blue Ruin, in particular. While Blue Ruin showed off his range, Blair gets to be both welcoming and menacing, as well as getting/earning most of the laughs (yes, there are laughs).
Jeremy Saulnier does two things very well: he tells a concise story, and he tells it with a unique rhythm.
With so many characters and threads, Green Room could easily have been a 3-hour affair, and I bet there's plenty on the cutting room floor. While there's some discussion to be had over character development, the world and characters felt plenty fleshed out, more than enough to service the story. And doing so in a swift way is a blessing.
You and me, we're a smart audience. We know when something's going to happen, we all brace (in our own way) when someone's closing a bathroom mirror. Saulnier's movies feel like they have a distinct rhythm to the cinematic beats, and it's a rhythm that can shift in surprising ways. Surprise is important for all storytelling, but especially horror and comedy – which is why I've come out of both Blue Ruin and Green Room thinking that they were funnier than I expected. I don't know what's going to happen in his movies, and that's a wonderful thing.
The characters on both sides of the punk Nazi kerfuffle are intelligent, making decisions that feel natural and clever - decisions that don't feel like plot devices. One of my favorite things is that characters try stuff that fail, as one does.
Making the situation feel extra dangerous is an adversary we think of as a cerebral commander in Patrick Stewart, between Picard and Xavier; one whose introduction from behind his naked scalp is enough to know he is in charge, and that scalp is full of machinations. And with all that, our heroes held their own without contrivance.
Saulnier is smart about his reserve when it comes to gore. There are moments. Oh, there are moments. They're well spread out, though, and much more effective because of it.
I also enjoyed the way Nazism was used. Nazis are such cartoon villains now, but Green Room kept them a viable threat, and let subtle background imagery and language work its way in before calling attention to it, which was super creepy. Saulnier avoided a cartoon-y portrayal by not letting the Nazism define the baddies. Mostly it just tempered their proclivity to play follow the leader.
Jeremy Saulnier took a great idea and told it well. Like You're Next or Cabin in the Woods, I was fully invested in and worried about the cast thanks to capable, honest choices made by the characters and director. I was ready to love Green Room, and I did.
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Patrick Stewart
Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier
Written by: Jeremy Saulnier
Running time: 95 minutes