Fantastic Fest 2015: Green Room

Blue Ruin team pits punks against neo-Nazis

Leaders and followers: Patrick Stewart brings a sense of commanding fear to Green Room. (Image courtesy of Fantastic Fest)

For anyone who thinks of Patrick Stewart as just Star Trek: The Next Generation's smooth-pated and soft-voiced diplomat Jean-Luc Picard, then his portrayal as merciless neo-Nazi leader Darcy in Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room may seem shocking. But in the long arc of his career, it makes perfect sense.

He is the antithesis of every other character here, all hapless punks and rage-fueled fascists locked in a bar/right-wing training camp somewhere in Oregon. Minor league agit-punks Ain't Right (Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, and fellow Trek veteran Anton Yelchin) are hobbling their way across America, stealing gas and living on comped rice and beans from afternoon shows in Mexican restaurants. In desperation, they take a gig in a skinhead venue/right-wing compound, which seems like a bad idea from the moment they burst into "Nazi Punks, Fuck Off" by the Dead Kennedys.

Green Room is less about if things turn sour, and instead about how fast, when, and how badly it goes. It quickly becomes a battle for survival, with the freaked-out band locked inside, and the fascist forces (including Blue Ruin's Macon Blair as a wannabe thug) marshaling outside. In lesser hands, this would just be low-grade exploitation: But with Saulnier, fresh from the critical acclaim of his debut Blue Ruin, what could have been a violent thrash becomes a gripping and suspenseful composition of tension.

Just as Blue Ruin re-wrote the rules of the revenge film through its combination of a weak protagonist and blood-curdling violence, Green Room uses those same components to redesign the siege movie. With Cassavetes, Fuller, and Peckinpah as clear influences, he makes it clear from moment one that no one is safe, no one is bullet-proof. As with his previous movie, he is unflinching in his portrayal of violence, never letting the audience off the cathartic hook once. No one here needs to die, but once the bloodletting starts, it will drown them all.

Rooted in Saulnier's own run-ins with neo-Nazis back in his DC hardcore punk days, this is a riveting tale of two ensemble casts, with both the fascist cadre and the trapped band showing the simple camaraderie that emerges under such tension. There's no showy dissension, or acts of foolish betrayal, but real, human motivation. Yet again, Saulnier shows an astounding aptitude for capturing the easiness with which people can slip into savagery.

And then there's Darcy. As with his new barbed satire Blunt Talk, Stewart isn't simply subverting his Trek legacy, but building on an astounding five-decade career on stage and screen. It's a performance that draws deep on his own roots, in a tough textile and coal-mining town in the North of England. He inhabits the skin of this corrupter of spirits with a calm, easy control. Darcy isn't a cartoonish pastiche of a wannabe Hitler, but the commanding yet grandfather-like character that could so convincingly sway a suede-head army to his cause.

Green Room screens Tuesday, Sept. 29, 5:15pm.

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