Jeremy Saulnier follows his incredible revenge thriller Blue Ruin with the brutally affecting horror Green Room, a siege horror that will leave you breathless.
Punk band The Ain’t Rights is at the tail end of a disappointing tour through the Pacific Northwest. They’re broke, they’re hungry, and they’re stealing gas to make it from show to show. So when they get offered a gig playing at a right wing bar in the woods, they’re not really in a position to quibble on politics.
After a bit of tension with the locals, the gig goes off without a hitch, but when they see something they’re not supposed to, the band find themselves locked in their green room surrounded by armed, angry and capable men. Who will make it out?
Much can (and should) be made of the brutal violence that begins about 20 minutes into the film, but what gives that violence its impact is the affection we have for these characters. They’re an incredibly likeable group (they even play The Dead Kennedys’ ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’ as an opener at the bar), and the casting is absolutely spot on, with Anton Yelchin on great form as Pat, the indecisive group leader, backed up by Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development), Joe Cole (The Falling) and Callum Turner (Glue). Meanwhile, Imogen Poots is excellent as Amber, the girl who is in the same boat as these outsiders and has a very good idea of what’s coming.
Like Blue Ruin, Green Room is both unflashy and brilliantly constructed. A slo-mo sequence of the crowd reacting to the band is about as stylised as the film gets. Once things get dark, Saulnier drops us into this terrifying situation and brilliantly ratchets up the tension. From the moment that Pat finds himself looking down the barrel of a gun, we’re in a nightmare that is only going to get worse, and no one is in any doubt about how bad things are going to get.
When it comes to depicting that nightmare, Saulnier doesn’t flinch. The wounds inflicted on these characters are truly stomach turning, and we spent a good deal of the film rushing to put our hands over our face. When they get hurt, it hurts. When they die, it’s horrific. The young actors remain on point throughout, with Cole and Shawkat particularly impressing.
Then there’s Patrick Stewart as Darcy, the bar owner and leader of the gang of neo Nazi thugs who knows they can’t let these kids leave. For the most part, Stewart underplays it beautifully. Wearing a jumper and glasses, he’s imposing not because of his physique but because of his sheer presence. His quiet fury is very effective, but not as effective as his calmer moments, rationally planning out the best way to dispose of the bodies or trying to convince Pat that this has all been a misunderstanding. Blue Ruin’s star Macon Blair is also great as Darcy’s slightly overwhelmed right hand Darcy.
Green Room has been criticised by some for lacking the subtext of Blue Ruin, for being an exercise above all else, but it’s most definitely an effective one. You won’t catch a breath for a good thirty minutes in the middle, and you will emerge bruised, shaken and affected. This is a brilliantly crafted and executed nightmare you won’t soon forget.