By Amber Broyles
Today, the film market is so over saturated that it’s nearly impossible to wade through and find something you can truly enjoy. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Diversity is always good and in the end it makes finding a new creator you connect with all the sweeter. It’s even more of a win when you watch something unassuming on a whim and it becomes one of the films that later shapes how you see the industry. Blue Ruin did just that for me. For a film from a relatively unseasoned writer director it struck a huge chord, thus, I had to add Saulnier to my very, very short list of filmmakers I’m loyal to. So, naturally Green Room had me more excited about a film then I had been in a long time. I’ll admit it might’ve fallen short of my expectations. Still, it made me re-evaluate why Blue Ruin originally meant so much to me and why I respect Saulnier as a creator.
What Saulnier does best is evident in Blue Ruin. Not only is it beautifully composed and shot but the plot is tight with just enough down-time to hype up the tension. It’s a stunning deconstruction of the classic revenge movie. It follows the story of loner Dwight (Macon Blair), a 30-something-year-old man seeking revenge for the death of his parents a decade or so ago. A few quick scenes in and we know Dwight isn’t against breaking into people’s homes, stealing clothes, dumpster diving for food, or living in a rundown car. He lives outside of society, so, it isn’t hard for him to take the leap into murder. There’s a whole heap of silence. Between the long, isolating shots and Dwight’s eyes the movie tells us of the last ten years without so much as a word. He’s broken and not even revenge can fix him. However, he doesn’t want to be fixed because Dwight isn’t the average hero. He feels real. He has emotional issues and is caught up in the past. He’s weak as most people are. Thus, giving the audience a sense he’s an everyman. He snaps back to life once his parents’ killer is released. Inside, the call for revenge hastily gnaws at him, despite the consequence. All these elements are not lazily explained through wordy dialogue but quick immaculately executed visuals.
The action is no longer personal. It’s a response for survival. There is no passion or hate anymore just cold calculating murder. It may be a slow burn after the initial murder, but it’s a good slow burn. It doesn’t meander. The pacing is deliberately slow. It’s meant to keep you on edge. It’s meant to make the final hoorah more intense. There is no filler. Each scene, each shot, each sigh, has a purpose.
On the flipside, we have Green Room. It follows a band (pun intended) of young punks into the backwater hills for a one last-ditch effort gig at a neo-Nazi dive bar. Unfortunately, they witness the aftermath of a murder and are forced to fight for survival against a barrage of devout skinheads. It’s wholeheartedly a siege movie, falling into the same vein as an Assault on Precinct 13 or Panic Room. Exposition is told through conversations instead of visuals. It drags on while each character speaks their clichéd lines. We have the hot head, the token girl band member, the weird quiet one, the Holden Caulfield-esque leader, and a neo-Nazi drug addict who’s morphed into the misunderstood punk girl. They follow their archetype almost to a T. They never subvert it or extend past it. We know by the time the catalyst comes around exactly who’s going to live and die. The lack of character development and red shirt syndrome make it hard to care about any of the characters. They aren’t people. They’re tropes.
The pacing problem continues up until the third act, where we finally see a shift. The characters grow a brain and utilize smoke and mirror tactics. Story cues are presented visually instead of verbally and time is make use of efficiently. This sudden shift in tone and execution is jarring to say the least. It gives the sense that maybe Saulnier had the ending in mind but no first act or second act to speak of. It left me in a state of confusion and frustration. The third act is what I expected from Saulnier. The first two acts are not.
The only element these two films have in common is the way in which violence is presented. We have the same ideas. In the beginning the violence is very personal. They use makeshift weapons that cause close proximity between the killer and murder victim. The camera is right up in it. There’s no shying away from the reality of it. You stab someone in the neck there will be blood. You slice a person open and you will see their insides. In these moments the violence is repulsing, as it should be. By the end, the characters are seasoned killers. They use guns. So, they’re farther away and not so involved in their own violence. The shots are wide and detached. The violence is now observed from a distance. It’s not personal anymore. It’s survival.
Writer directors have a unique task that doesn’t befall directors or writers on their own. If you know you’re going to direct your script you write it in a different way. You have the opportunity to decide what shots will be during the writing process. Therefore, as a writer director writing and visuals go hand in hand to tell the story. If you’re writing a script for someone else to director they decide the shots so there’s no need to point out certain visuals. You can but writing straightforward action is preferred. That way the director has raw material to work with.
I greatly attribute Saulnier’s impeccable sense of visual storytelling to his writing. It’s evident when comparing and contrasting these two films. Green Room is a pseudo-complex plot padded with poor character development. Blue Ruin is an unabashedly simple plot with complex characters. He is a master of character when he has more time to focus on only a few. He is a craftsman when it comes to simple plots because he has more time to plan his visual execution of ideas. Green Room is an experiment. It’s not seamless but it’s certainly a learning experience. Hopefully, he can look at it objectively, see the flaws, and apply this new found knowledge to his next film.
was started in 2015 as a collection of thoughts about film. After a four year hiatus, it is back with some new thoughts and new contributors. Please check out our archives of past reviews and follow our social media to see new content.