The setup to director Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room is simple enough. A down-on-its-luck punk band stumbles upon a murder in the green room behind the stage of its last gig. Surrounded outside by the club’s killer bouncers and its owner, the band is holed up in the neo-Nazi skinhead bar. What follows is an explicit grunge version of Straw Dogs.
The band is called The Ain’t Rights and they’re having a rough time. After several disappointments, within moments of finally calling it quits, the members are suddenly given the opportunity to earn a few hundred dollars playing at an off-the-beaten-path night club. As the guy who sets the gig up tells them, the place is full of “braces and boots.” It’s a line from Elton John’s Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting and it refers to the uniform of skinheads. The bar is a grungy, black painted, neo-Nazi skinhead drinking hole, but the band members need the money, so they accept the gig and play before a scary crowd of bottle throwing, beer spewing, boots and braces wearing, skinheads. As a private joke, the band plays a cover of Dead Kennedys’ Nazi Punks, F**k Off. The crowd goes dangerously wild.
But it’s after the concert, not during, where things fly out of control, and it happens in an instant. Just at the moment of taking their money and leaving, band member Sam (Alia Shawkat) realizes she’s forgotten her cell phone; it’s still charging in the green room. Sam and Pat (Anton Yelchin) go back to grab the cell only to walk in on the aftermath of a murder. A young girl lies on the floor with a knife in her skull. All band members are quickly rounded up by the club bouncers and locked in the green room while club owner, Darcy (Patrick Stewart) decides what to do with them.
“You’re held here for your own safety,” insists Darcy, calling from the hallway while he buys time to think of what he’s going to do with the band. The answer, of course, is simple: Have his club employees kill all witnesses, including the murdered girl’s accompanying club member friend, Amber (Imogen Poots) and frame them all for the crime. But first, they have to break into that green room.
Using all kinds of weaponry, including, guns, knives, machetes, box-cutters, and even killer attack dogs, Darcy organizes a vicious, uncompromising attack while remaining outside as he fixes things to look as though the band were really trespassing on private property and were killed by guard dogs while siphoning gas for their van.
Green Room is director/writer Jeremy Saulnier’s third film and it’s a tense, lurid, and brutal affair. When the violence hits, it hits hard. Bones are broken, limbs are shattered and throats are torn. As a filmmaker, there’s no holding back on Saulnier’s desire to have you see every graphic action taken. In fact, there’s even that occasional moment when you’re not quite sure what it is you’ve just witnessed, but cinematographer Sean Porter is in no rush to cut away. After a brief moment of visual adjustment, the gashes, the open wounds and the ripped flesh on a victim’s throat become unpleasantly obvious.
The film fails itself in the third act. The conclusions aren’t as rewarding as you might want, plus that abrupt cut to black ending leaves you hanging in a less than satisfactory condition than the one you might be hoping for. But before you get there, there are surprises and rewards.
What surprises is that the Green Room is a taut, well executed horrific thriller made up of a particularly good and convincing ensemble. The reactions of Yelchin’s Pat stuck in a nightmare situation way beyond his control with no clue what to do next are just as you would expect a young man of this inexperienced nature to be. Through sheer fear and persistence, plus a little improvisation – he duct tapes his gaping flesh wounds even though the pain remains – he and the other band members use whatever objects they can find laying around in order to both overcome their savage attacks and get out of that building alive. But it’s the surprising casting of Patrick Stewart’s low-key club owner Darcy and Imogen Poots’ cornered and resourceful Amber that stand out and keep audiences’ interest continually piqued.
For those who like their violence up front, in your face and as punishing as a compelling mainstream film can get, Green Room won’t disappoint. For others, it will be a grisly, uncomfortable hard watch. There’s no in-between.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 94 Minutes Overall Rating: 7 (out of 10)