Green Room is Jeremy Saulnier’s new, relentless thriller that shows what happens when two warring subcultures clash in a confined space
You can keep your Batman v Superman and Captain America-v-Iron Man weightless CG, stake-free showdowns. The movies’ most intensely visceral face-off right now is played out in Jeremy Saulnier’s relentless thriller Green Room. In one corner, young punk band The Ain’t Rights; in the other, vicious neo-Nazis, who have the group trapped backstage in the shelter of their backwoods roadhouse venue, after the band accidentally witness a murder.
Packed with breakneck twists, merciless black humour and scenes of gruesome bloodletting, Green Room delivers on the promise of Saulnier’s acclaimed 2013 debut, the slow-burn revenge flick Blue Ruin, then amps up the action and tension to near-unbearable levels. With a terrific young cast – Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, rising British actors Joe Cole and Callum Turner – pitted against Patrick Stewart’s sinuously threatening skinhead army, it’s a siege movie with real freshness. Saulnier and Yelchin spoke to us about their mutual love of punk, gore and Stewart’s XXX-Man.
You both played punk before?
Jeremy Saulnier: I yelled punk. I wasn’t talented enough a musician to play in a band.
Anton Yelchin: I play guitar.
So you’re really playing in the film?
Anton Yelchin: Yeah, but I’m playing bass and playing punk bass is, like, not the hardest thing. You just have to play really fast.
But you both have a long history with this kind of music?
Jeremy Saulnier: Absolutely. I grew up just outside Washington DC and the hardcore scene then, around 1991 to ’94, was a big part of my youth. I’d be making all these home movies with my buddies on VHS video – zombies and exploitation flicks – then we’d get in the car and go to DC and be part of the shows. I was a jock, but I hated sports, so to be very physical – dance, jump around, yell – I loved being in the moment. Actually the Mexican restaurant (gig in the movie), my band played that gig. It was very sad, only a few people showed up, so I thought it would be fun to highlight that.
Anton Yelchin: I love this stuff! I have this punk band and we’ve played so many shitty shows. And I listen to a lot of noise and hardcore, I love Misfits and Japanese stuff like Boredoms and Guitar Wolf. Every day on this, we’d start on track one of Bad Brains’ first album or this crazy grindcore band The Locust and cruise all the way to work, tripping out on it.
Jeremy Saulnier: My desert island band is Black Sabbath. But what’s great is the movie’s soundtrack has Bad Brains, it has Slayer and I also snuck some of my high-school bands in there too. The Ain’t Rights’ very first performance is a song from a high-school friend, so it’s also this great nostalgic archive of my cinematic and musical upbringing.
How did you go from punk to a Nazi siege movie?
Jeremy Saulnier: Back then in DC - it’s surprising now – there were Nazi punks at every show. There was even a band that I feared – very scary, very violent. The lead singer would go into the pit and destroy the audience. It’s funny, when I pitched the idea, Nazis v punks, some people thought it was a period piece. But in the US since Obama was elected there’s been a very strong uptick in this sort of white supremacist movement. And I didn’t want to do an American southern movie with racist rednecks, I feel we’ve been there and done that.
Anton, you’ve done action in Star Trek and Terminator: Salvation, but nothing as down-and-dirty as this...
Anton Yelchin: Terminator was much more a traditional action movie. But this is such a punk-rock movie, more grindhouse. I love B-movies, slasher films, I really love Japanese ultraviolent Japanese films like Ichi the Killer or Park Chan-wook’s (Korean) vengeance trilogy.
Talking of ultraviolence, the film is absolutely brutal. How did you approach the practical effects of shock and gore?
Jeremy Saulnier: I grew up loving the genre, making special visual effects on my own, running blood tubes and watching (FX legend) Tom Savini’s videos and geeking out. I loved the tactile nature of that filmmaking.
It’s weird, because on one hand that time was more graphic, but also somehow more innocent.
Jeremy Saulnier: Right. Cinematic violence to me was always a craft and an art form. I grew up in the pre-Columbine era. We could be on the street with blood packs and zombie masks and shooting each other and it was all in good fun – no one called a Swat team on you for holding a plastic machine gun. It’s very different now, the real world is encroaching – you can’t escape and you can’t ignore it. I would be calling the Swat team now, because some people crossed the line, especially in the States.
Anton Yelchin: I also don’t subscribe to the philosophy that violence onscreen induces violence in people, I think there are much bigger and more intense systems to delude people than a movie. That’s a sort of gimmick to take people’s minds off the real problems: ‘Don’t listen to Marilyn Manson!’ Yeah, like, Marilyn Manson will make me kill people, not, say, walking into a store and just getting guns, that’s not an issue…
Jeremy Saulnier: I know Green Room can easily be categorised as a horror film but the way I approached the violence was very grounded. They kill people for a reason, it’s very practical and more about a siege or a battle. I was referencing Apocalypse Now, Platoon and Full Metal Jacket.
Patrick Stewart is an unlikely but chilling neo-Nazi. How did you get him involved?
Jeremy Saulnier: He just happened to have joined my management company at the time and was looking for something different, something adventurous... I was preparing myself for the Hollywood star coming in, disrupting the set with his demands, and he did nothing of the sort. He was so dedicated and invested in the movie, and that was huge.
Anton, what was your experience of working with him? And did you ever talk about your mutual Star Trek connection?
Anton Yelchin: He’s a gentleman. We’d actually met once before and someone said, ‘Oh, you guys should talk about Star Trek’. Like, OK, ‘How was your uniform?’ So we never talked about it here. I love the reveal of him in the movie, though, just his head. He’s got one of the most exceptional heads in cinema, I think.