Green Room opens with a sleepy-eyed Pat (Anton Yelchin) waking up in his beat up van with the engine running in the middle of a cornfield. He and his bandmates have apparently fallen asleep on the road to their next gig. From there, Sam and Pat take off on a bike to steal some fuel from a local parking lot; a scene which serves as a proper introduction for the status of the dying punk rock scene, and the wavering stability of this once great band. The squad has been strapped for cash for as long as they can remember, and are on the brink of total exhaustion, so when their latest promoter Tad jerks them around and costs them dearly in the payment department, it feels like the last straw. In order to prevent the drummer Reece from annihilating him, Tad offers up a much better gig at a real concert venue down near Portland, Oregon. The only catch is; the crowd is full of Nazi skinheads.
The show goes well, and the crowd goes wild for The Ain’t Rights, this poor broke band who actually appear to have quite a bit of life left in them. However, just when the crew is ready to grab their check and jet, an incorrigible sight presents itself before them, and prevents them from leaving the scene right away – or possible ever. Someone’s been stabbed, and when Pat tries to report it, he pisses off the wrong people. Now, cornered in a small room, guarded by bloodthirsty dogs and violent thugs, the band has no choice but to evolve into fierce warriors, and prove how punk they really are, if they want to survive the night and escape the clutches of the Green Room.
His big follow up to the festival favorite revenge thriller Blue Ruin, director Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room delivers on multiple levels. Wholly relatable and viciously violent, this film condenses a fierce battle into the time period of no more than sixteen total real time hours, and manages to keep the audience on the edge of their seats the entire time. I sat down with the director and star Anton Yelchin on a sunny afternoon in West Los Angeles to discuss their ascension into madness, in this all-out crusade that occurs tightly within the confines of a tiny green room. Together, Saulnier and Yelchin discussed their vision of the story, and what, in their opinion, makes for an overwhelmingly tense and well shot siege film.
“There’s a few things I think to creating tension, and one of them is information deprivation” says director Saulnier. “It’s coupled with having relatable characters and having the audience really connect with them, to inhabit their roles and to feel their perspective, so when you’re with them, you’re actively searching for more information and you’re deprived of that. So, it’s a really sort of aggressive need to know more, which makes you lean in”.
In Saulnier’s opinion, the key to creating a heightened atmosphere that permeates each scene with tension is making the movie as grounded as possible, so that the events that unfold seem like they could actually happen in real life.
“It’s [also] about establishing a world where there’s real life peril, and so with the special effects and the way violence is treated to make it seem awkward and brutal and executed in a way that seems so plausible and just like, unimpeachable as far as the authenticity of it. Then, you have the relatability, the lack of information, and the peril, and you’re really able to steer the audience in a way that makes them feel they do not have control, they cannot predict where they’re going, and then that sort of releases them. When they have no control, their involuntary nervous system takes over, and overcompensates, and that’s when you have real tension that you can measure physically”.
Anton Yelchin feels that the tension that makes Green Room so riveting throughout is a result of the audience not knowing what to expect.
“You know, typically, like in a monster film, it’s like, well the monsters are going to kill these people, right? You are sort of like, allowed to feel some level of comfort with the generic, the code that we’re following, because we know that monsters will kill people and eventually, the monster will be vanquished, some people will be lost” Yelchin explains, musing on old predictable plot schemes. “Here, it’s a completely absurd situation, and the fact that you’re grounded in absurdity from the beginning mimics the tension that the characters are feeling, because they’re trying to make sense of the absurdity, and the movie doesn’t really seem to let go of the fact that they’re a part of Darcy’s plan. Darcy’s plan is Darcy’s plan, and there’s no reason that it’s happening, but it is happening, you know? And I think inevitably, at least for me, it creates a real sense of despair because you’re like, “Fuck, but I want to make sense of this, and I can’t!” and I think that’s a very human kind of tension that we experience”.
This conflict was never supposed to happen, these kids were never supposed to be here to witness this, and nothing is more gut-wrenching than the idea that all of this could have been prevented.
“There really is no reason for conflict. The conflict is there is a problem that one side is trying to solve, and the other side has become the problem, completely unintentionally” Yelchin interprets. “I think, you know, the fact that there’s a real pragmatic nature to Darcy, and he is wanting to eliminate these kids makes you, I think the involuntary response is you feel incredibly tense when you’re watching it”.
In the end, the biggest piece of advice Saulnier can offer up for tackling a terrifying siege flick is to just keep it simple.
“I mean, I think it’s all about, don’t try to overplot. Don’t convolute it. A siege film is about a very simple clash and just mine that for all you can get out of it. Use your environment, and not so much injecting sort of I guess plot twists, or any sort of artificial elements that you think might satisfy an audience. Just dig in, and like the characters, and see it all the way through”.
Green Room opens in theaters in LA & NYC on April 15th, and goes nationwide on April 29th, 2016.