Green Room is part survival horror, part siege thriller, and an all-around relentlessly badass indie that solidifies writer/director Jeremy Saulnier as the real deal.
Green Room wastes no time before hurling the audience right into the thick of the horror show. Its very first frame introduces us to the struggling punk band The Ain’t Rights, their tour van having careened off the side of the road into the cornstalks. The band is on the last leg of a highly unfruitful tour, in which they’re forced to siphon gas in order to even get to the next gig.
After a misunderstanding renders their final gig a total bust, they accept a sketchy make-up gig in some backwoods venue in the middle of nowhere, Oregon. It becomes apparent that the club is run and frequented by neo-Nazi skinheads, so naturally our punk heroes decide that Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” is the best song with which to kick off their set.
As the band scurries off after making their quick buck, one of the bandmates Sam (Alia Shawkat) realizes she left her phone charging in the green room, so bassist Pat (Anton Yelchin) goes back to retrieve it. That’s when he discovers a dead woman on the ground with a screwdriver planted firmly in her head — and all hell breaks loose.
From then on, the band (as well as the dead woman’s friend, played by Imogen Poots) gets locked in the green room at neo-Nazi gunpoint as the powers-that-be try to manage the situation internally without getting the cops involved.
All that takes place within the first 10 minutes, so the meat of the film deals with the band members going toe-to-toe with well-armed, murderous neo-Nazis, led by a calmly terrifying club owner played by Patrick Stewart (yes, that Patrick Stewart). He makes it perfectly clear that these kids are not to make it out of the club alive.
The film works so bloody well because the viewer feels as if anything can happen. It establishes early on that no character is safe when one of the lead characters suffers a particularly gnarly injury, and from then on you never know who’s going to bite the dust, or when, or how, and it makes every kill that much more shocking.
Seemingly continuing a theme from his 2013 Cannes breakout hit Blue Ruin, Saulnier appears to take gleeful joy in portraying inexperienced people doling out professional helpings of gruesome violence. The bandmates here are so completely out of their depth (not to mention entirely innocent), so watching them be meticulously hunted by such evil forces is terrifying.
The carnage comes in short, unexpected bursts, and gets quite brutal. There’s a scene early-on featuring a maiming so visceral and repulsive, I can still picture it in my head, even weeks removed.
The deaths would be horrific enough as is, but Saulnier really revels in the gory details. There are shotgun blasts to the face, dogs tearing apart people’s throats, box cutters, machetes — name something disgustingly violent, and chances are some variation of it shows up here.
This extreme violence is that much more effective because we actually care about these characters — every element on screen, from the tight storytelling, and insane tension to the claustrophobic cinematography, is expertly crafted.
Poots particularly shines as the only person who truly understands just how fucked they are — she knows how the club operates, and thus knows the implied doom that awaits them all. Her backstory is a bit more muddled and less straightforward than the rest of the characters, but it’s clear that while she does have some unexplained ties to the skinheads, there’s way more to her than that.
It’s hard to call a film this ugly “fun,” but damn it, it is. Since our heroes fight back in such glorious ways, there’s a twisted sense of pleasure in watching these maniacs suffer at the hands of amateurs.
Green Room occupies a space somewhere in between a nasty midnight B-movie and well-directed arthouse fodder, and fans of either will find plenty to love here — just make sure you leave your squeamish friends at home.
Green Room will be released on April 15th, 2016.