****/**** Image B Sound A Extras B
starring Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Patrick Stewart
written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier
by Walter Chaw I wonder if Jeremy Saulnier has ever made something that wasn't, in its dark heart of hearts, a comedy. I hadn't considered this before a dear friend suggested it after a screening of Green Room, and it caused me to reassess Saulnier's previous films, Murder Party and Blue Ruin. The labels "hardcore" and "brutal" don't feel exactly right, though his work is certainly both at times. There's a Mel Brooks quote I like that defines tragedy as you getting a paper-cut--it hurts, it's awful, it's terrible--and comedy as somebody else falling into a sewer and dying. Saulnier's films are litanies of horrible, unimaginable calamities befalling generally well-meaning schlubs who are altogether unequipped to deal with them. Murder Party, his feature debut, set the template. Its protagonist is a lonely guy who answers a general invitation to attend a Halloween "Murder Party," where he discovers that he's the only guest and that all of the hosts have decided to murder him. It's the most obviously comic of his pictures, and it ends with a moment of crystal-blue melancholy as it becomes clear that the audience has sutured not just to this guy's guilelessness, but to the loneliness driving him as well. Blue Ruin is a masterpiece of the same sort of mechanics. It's delightful: delightfully funny, delightfully smart, delightfully brutal. The hero of that piece, played by Macon Blair (who has a key role in Green Room), is another nebbish pulled from obscurity to be, briefly, the hero of his own life.