From the opening shot of a punk-occupied van crashed in a cornfield, the recurring motif director Jeremy Saulnier is going for is clear: chaos. There’s an uneasy feeling looming over the moviegoer the entire movie that anything violent can happen at anytime. This was the end result of a film I was anticipating we’d receive after seeing Saulnier’s previous movie, Blue Ruin, and a few of the Green Room trailers. Like Blue Ruin, Saulnier does not skimp on brutality. He even seems to have his characters wear their wounds as a badge of honor, and lets them scar and define these characters’ forthcoming actions. Although these bloody portions of the movie aren’t designed in a way that modern horror directors like Eli Roth or Robert Rodriguez would present them, as a somewhat cartoon-ish or pornographic way, but in a very realistic sense that makes you feel uncomfortable watching. That being said, this movie isn’t for the squeamish. However, if you stick with it, you are fully rewarded for doing so, with a brutal, suspenseful, visceral piece of cinema that will not soon be forgotten in
years decades to come.
Diving into the cast, this features one of Anton Yelchin’s final roles in film, who has departed us much too soon, as he clearly had more of his gift to give based on the variety in which he gave it to us thus far. This go-round, he plays innocent punk-rocker Pat, who’s really the definition of “along for the ride” starting out. He’s timid in interviews, indecisive, and rather naive, but you better believe that this character’s in for the transformation of a lifetime. Another recurring theme here is fight or flight; how we react when confronted with a worst case scenario, and what violence turns us into. That’s as far as I’m willing to go with Pat without delving into spoiler territory. His experience must be seen to be believed anyway.
Another gem of a casting decision was Patrick Stewart as Darcy, the skinhead club leader where Pat’s punk band are stranded. Talk about an outside-the-box performance: we’re accustomed to Stewart playing these kindhearted intellectuals. He remains the intellectual in this film but is completely devious and manipulative in his methods as he does everything in his power to protect his club in the face of a…certain bloody situation. Another compliment to pay involving Stewart really has to do more with Saulnier’s directing choice: in a particular scene, Darcy is attempting to negotiate with Pat and his bandmates from behind a closed door, and the audience cannot see Darcy. In listening to his delivery, you fully believe Darcy’s intentions without even seeing him, which makes him all the more dangerous really.
Other cast members include Imogen Poots as Amber, who undergoes her own metamorphosis in this movie, albeit a lesser one than Pat just due to shorter screen-time. Imogen is fantastic here and I can’t say much else for fear of spoiling, but I’m seeing her pop up in more movies and TV shows lately and I hope that’s an upward trend. Macon Blair, a frequent Saulnier collaborator, plays Gabe, who is probably just as unsettling as Stewart’s Darcy due to his completely calm-when-controlling nature. If this is your first introduction to Blair, by all means, please watch 2014’s Blue Ruin however you can and familiarize yourself with him and Saulnier’s previous work together. It’s a brilliant movie, but I digress.
As you may have seen in my mid-year top 5 movies post, I’m rather fond of this movie. It’s extremely memorable, well-shot, and actually a pretty deep study on the human condition in the face of adversity (to put the plot rather lightly). If you don’t mind being unsettled and alarmed with occasionally violent visuals, you will absolutely adore this movie as much as I did. If you squirm at the aforementioned things, maybe a lovely colorful Disney animated flick will tickle your fancy (which there’s nothing wrong with; I’m just provided alternatives). Either way, for me, Saulnier proved here, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he’s an upper echelon contributor to the medium of film.