This ultra-violent thriller paints Patrick Stewart in a whole new light.
May 12, 2016
There's something uniquely fascinating about watching an actor play against type. Whether it's comedian Adam Sandler as a lonely introvert in Punch-Drunk Love, or perennial leading man Leonardo DiCaprio as a sadistic slave owner in Django Unchained, it's often the performances that challenge our perception of an actor that end up being their most memorable. The most recent example of this phenomenon comes courtesy of Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room, a viciously violent thriller starring veteran actor Patrick Stewart as the leader of a gang of murderous neo-Nazis. To call it the most unsettling performance of his career doesn't come close to doing it justice. Suffice it to say, you'll never think about Captain Picard in quite the same way again.
Against the white supremacists Saulnier pits struggling punk band The Ain't Rights, whose members include Fright Night's Anton Yelchin and Arrested Development's Alia Shawkat. With money and petrol both in perilously low supply, the group takes a gig at a remote skinhead bar in Oregon, a decision that they may not live to regret. Their cover of the Dead Kennedys song 'Nazi Punks Fuck Off' doesn't exactly get the warmest of receptions, but that's nothing compared to what's in store for them after they find a freshly murdered corpse in the green room following the show. It's the worst possible case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and with club owner Darcy Banker (Stewart) intent on eliminating all witnesses, the band soon find themselves fighting for their lives.
What follows is an exercise in excruciating tension in which the odds of a happy ending seem to diminish with every scene. Green Room is not for audiences with faint hearts or weak stomachs, with Saulnier executing some of the most gruesome, shocking and genuinely upsetting violence we've seen on the big screen in quite some time. Still, it's the moments in between the carnage that are the movies' most effective. Rarely has a film captured the terror of imminent bloodshed with this kind of frenzied, animalistic intensity – and for that, credit must go not just to Saulnier, but also to his cast. Playing scared isn't always the easiest thing to do, as the bad acting in countless horror films can attest. But Yelchin and Shawkat, along with their bandmates Callum Turner and Joe Cole, are never anything less than 100 per cent convincing.
Their work also makes Stewart that much more frightening by comparison. There's something utterly chilling about the way he keeps his cool, coordinating his troupe of loyal thugs even as the body count rises. Whether or not Saulnier intended the film to have contemporary political undertones, it's hard not to read something into the way in which Banker so brazenly exploits his followers, inciting violence through rhetoric while keeping his own hands (mostly) clean. Either way, it's a phenomenal turn by the actor, and well worth the price of a ticket on its own.