There are places in the world that, despite the money they may offer, you simply shouldn’t go. The punk band The Ain’t Rights find that out the hard way when, desperate for cash, they take a payday gig from a skinhead bar, the type to talk about their lifestyle as a movement as opposed to shits and giggles. The band previously says they don’t have an online presence because it goes against their ethos; their hypocrisy of taking a gig for a gang of neo-nazis is rather swiftly punished. A peek backstage makes them witnesses to a murder, and catalyzes a tense situation with the band on one side of door and an untold number of neo-nazis on the other. As a calm voice on the other side states, and every event leading up to it foretells, this won’t end well.
Green Room is the second color-named movie about scary violent white people by Jeremy Saulnier, and if you liked previous movie, the exceptional Blue Ruin, Green Room is certainly highly recommended. That being said, Green Room is far from a retread, even though Saulnier certainly has consistencies in his style. While Blue Ruin was a meditation on the futility of revenge, Green Room is first-and-foremost a thrill machine. With a classic claustrophobic horror movie structure, Green Room works in shifts, starting as a suspenseful game of wits between the band and the unspoken threat of violence on the other side of the door. When things take a turn for the violent, they do so mercilessly. To say more would spoil the surprises the movie has in store, but suffice to say that nails were bit and shocks were had.
Just because its more of a genre film than its predecessor doesn’t make it any dumber though. The gore will be a bit much for many, but its not quite gratuitous in a torture porn sense. For every line crossed, consequences occur, and characters react in deeper ways than simple hysterics. While it has a horror movie setup, no obvious idiot moves are made, and those that are less-than-genius are quickly and brutally paid for. Interestingly, the movie hides little from the audience, giving a fair amount of screen time to the neo-nazis as well as they try to solve their problem with as best a cover-up strategy as possible. While it loses some of the claustrophobia the movie might have had by sticking entirely with the protagonists, it results in a neat balance, where no one is an unreasonable mastermind but no one is required to play the fool either.
What’s most surprising perhaps is how the movie takes few shortcuts in how it portrays the skinheads on the other side of the door; sure, most are nameless, faceless monsters in red shoelaces, but many are given moments that deepen them beyond sociopathic killing machines. Imogen Poots’ Amber finds herself similarly trapped and in over her head, but by being the first to truly comprehend their situation is also able to be a real force in the fight back. Blue Ruin star Macon Blair’s in-charge-at-the-wrong-time Gabe has an honest-to-goodness character arc that never slips his poor decisions under the rug but also shows a level of remorse that’s more than token. It makes it a bit disappointing that Patrick Stewart’s club owner Darcy never really elevates above the stunt casting, although that casting definitely pays off in his early scenes as a disembodied voice promising a peaceful resolution.
Green Room is effective as more than just a genre thrill ride, but its so effective as a genre thrill ride that almost nothing more needs to be said. At 95 minutes, it’s a lean, mean, and rewarding trip through hell, confirming Saulnier’s place as one of the most exciting directors in the business. It’s violence will be testing to some, and the tension unbearable to all, but its done in a way that’s never cheap and often innovative (particularly towards the end). Strong stomachs are required, but Green Room is worth the stress.
Green Roon (2016)
Dir. Jeremy Saulnier
Starring Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Imogen Poots, and Patrick Stewart
Rotten Tomatoes (90%)
- SPOILER THOUGHT: Green Room seems to effectively have four acts: the necessary introduction, a paranoid thriller in the green room, an out-and-out horror movie sandwiched between two escape attempts, and a revenge thriller to cap it off, starting with one of the bandmembers declaring themselves Odin while bashing a machete against the floor. Each of the three modes works well, and the lines between them aren’t arbitrary. The horror movie starts when the band makes the decision to make a run for it, and the revenge thriller starts when they decide to change the rules of the game. Their decisions have consequences, for good or for bad, and the movie feels very deliberate because of it. Shocks are there, but none of the random, out-of-left-field, lets-mess-with-the-audience sort.