(Netflix Streaming, November 2016) While Green Room suffers from a slight case of over-hype, it’s not a fatal one. I’d been waiting a while, like many others, for a follow-up to writer/director Jeremy Saulnier’s acclaimed Blue Ruin, and Green Room does have a lot of what made the first film so interesting: sharply observed details, a respectful look at the lower rungs of society and an often-upsetting use of realistic violence. As a punk band gets embroiled in the dirty dealings of a neo-Nazi club in the middle of nowhere, the stakes quickly get deadly as they are locked in the green room and their opponents plan what to do with them. As a genre exercise, Green Room is well accomplished: our heroes are inside, the enemies are outside and there’s no help around. Violent episodes punctuate the film, resulting in a dwindling cast and ever-more inventive story beats. It ends satisfactorily enough, even though the film doesn’t revolutionize anything. Anton Yelchin stars as the headliner of the punk band. Against him, Patrick Stewart is simply chilling as a neo-Nazi leader. Meanwhile, it’s always interesting to see Alia Shawkat have a good role for herself. Still, the star remains Saulnier, who moves his chessboard pieces with cleverness and cranks up a decent amount of suspense when it counts. Now that he has created even more anticipation for himself, what will his next movie bring?
(On Cable TV, October 2015) It takes a while to warm up to Blue Ruin. The near-wordless beginning, after all, sets up a beach bum undertaking revenge against the killer of his parents. The micro-budget aesthetics of the film can be rough, and it’s clear that writer/director Jeremy Saulnier isn’t interested in telling the kind of story we’re used to: the protagonist is singularly inept at any kind of revenge, and even when he manages to kill his target, it turns out to be the wrong person. But almost imperceptibly, Blue Ruin draws viewers in and makes strengths out of its initial hiccups. In time, the careful rhythm of the film becomes an asset, and the protagonist’s struggles become real. More crucially, Blue Ruin is about how revenge fantasies can go wrong and spin out of control, creating an even bigger mess along the way. That’s almost a daring idea at a time where revenge movies are a dime a dozen, some wronged shmuck reinventing themselves as pure killing machines in time for a satisfying justice right before the end credits. Blue Ruin consciously avoids that kind of power fantasy by making revenge messy, unpredictable, ugly and filled with consequences. The script is remarkably clever, managing to deliver its anti-vengeance message while providing a relatively satisfying ending. The stripped-down low-budget cinematography becomes satisfying after a while, and the result in an unexpected success. Blue Ruin is well-worth seeing, especially if revenge fantasies are starting to grate.