“I had opportunities that were way classier than this, and I thought I’d do this instead,” Jeremy Saulnier said of his new film, Green Room, during a preview screening at Nitehawk Cinema last night. His previous effort, Blue Ruin, was a critical darling, but when it came time for a follow-up, the Brooklyn director decided to make what he described self-deprecatingly as “a cruddy punk-rock murder movie.”
Green Room was inspired, in part, by Saulnier’s experiences being in a band and going to punk shows. “I always thought it’d be really cool to set a siege scenario in a green room during a concert,” said the 39-year-old. And that’s exactly what this film does: The Ain’t Rights are a young, hungry punk band played by Callum Turner, Anton Yelchin, Joe Cole, and Alia Shawkat (she’s everywhere!). When they play a gig at a roadhouse deep in the woods of Oregon, they see from the white power stickers and the Confederate flag in their green room that things aren’t quite right here. Or, rather, they’re all too far to the right.
But these skinheads aren’t your run-of-the-mill, Nazi-saluting Trump voters – one of them, who goes by the name of Worm, outright stabs a woman to death in the green room. When The Ain’t Rights get wind of it, they’re held hostage by the club’s owner, played by a very intense Patrick Stewart.
The idea behind the movie was to “get Mad Max for super cheap,” Saulnier said. “[The hardcore punk aesthetic] is contemporary and it’s a real thing. It’s just surplus gear: spikes, leather, boots, bullshit.”
Saulnier took inspiration from his teenage years of going to punk shows in Washington, DC. During the ‘90s, he said, “there were Nazi punks at every single big show in DC. As a result, he said, “there was stabbings outside the clubs, and I felt way out of my depth. But it stuck with me.” One band in particular served as the inspiration for Cowcatcher, the neo-Nazi grindcore band with the murderous lead singer. “That’s based on a singer from the band that scared the shit out of me, that was leaning a little hard right, you know,” Saulnier said. The singer “would go in the pit and destroy people– he would just fuck up a lot of people and it was violent and weird and disturbing.”
That kind of behavior is what inspired the Dead Kennedys to pen “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” which happened to be the first punk song Saulnier ever heard, on a road trip in 1985. It’s featured on the soundtrack, along with tunes by bands like Syphilitic Lust and Saulnier’s pals in the original The Ain’t Rights (he borrowed their name and had some of their songs rerecorded). Shawkat’s character wears a Dead Kennedys t-shirt throughout the film, and Jello Biafra is thanked in the credits along with bands like Fugazi and Minor Threat.
As for Sir Patrick Stewart, he got involved because he shares a management company with Saulnier. “He has a pretty fun story,” said the director, “where he was alone in his house in England, which is secluded, and he watched Blue Ruin and got a little freaked out. [On Rotten Tomatoes, where Blue Ruin clocks an impressive 96% critical approval rating, the Kickstarter-funded 2013 film is described as “thrillingly grim,” and proof that “a well-told revenge story can still leave its audience on the edge of their seat.”] Then he got his hands on the script for Green Room and was flipping through it, hit page 40, when shit hits the fan, and just stopped and poured himself a tall glass and went across his perimeter and turned on all the perimeter lights and locked all the doors and windows.”
While things get plenty gory as The Ain’t Rights try to escape and flee to safety (pro tip: use amplifier feedback to fight off ravenous pitbulls), Green Room probably isn’t going to make you double bolt your door when you get home. But there’s no denying Saulnier’s assertion that the hardcore punk aesthetic is “inherently fun and cinematic,” and his director of photography, Sean Porter, captures a remote landscape as moodily as he did in Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.
“Hopefully it’ll get your heart pounding,” Saulnier said of the film. It opens April 15.