So say you’re in a punk rock band with your buddies, you need cash and you manage to book a gig at a skinhead bar in the woods, do you take it? Of course! Skinheads are known to be friendly reasonable people, what could go wrong?
Everything. Everything can go wrong.
The premise of Green Room is fantastic, writer and director Jeremy Saulnier delivers a clever horror thriller showcasing a band’s worst nightmare. Pat, Tiger, Sam and Reece are members of the band “The Ain’t Rights” are a travelling punk rock band going from gig to gig, when their most recent performance leads to a disappointing payday they take another job. This leads them to the skinhead bar and immediately you can feel a sense of danger to the surroundings but the band doesn’t take it seriously. They try to find some amusement in what’s happening around them but when the show’s over and management tries to rush them out of the venue, one of them goes back to grab their phone from the green room. From that point on, the band is in danger and the situation they find themselves in starts to spiral out of control.
The location of the film specifically the “green room” of the film is one of the great occasions where the location is a character itself. The production design team of the film create a rich detail in the rooms of the skinhead bar, graffiti, alcohol and drugs, old speakers and microphones, Nazi memorabilia and flickering fluorescent lights. All these small details combine to create the claustrophobic hell that Saulnier forces you to endure, escape from the Green Room is not going to be easy. All those details serve a second purpose of makeshift weapons as the four friends and their reluctant allies are forced to do whatever they can to survive, so the attention to detail from the filmmakers is appreciated, the placement of nearly every item in the film could serve a potential purpose for our heroes or our villains.
One of the choices that I liked with Saulnier’s directing was to make the band members initially unlikable. Their introduction in the film presents themselves as deadbeats, stealing gas from other cars and pompous about their style of music and music preferences. They’re immature as well not taking the direction of their life seriously, they think playing a cover of “Nazi Punks, F Off” at a skinhead bar is a hilarious idea and find the bottles hurled at them small victories. The band members themselves are played by a talented group of young actors led by Anton Yelchin, his shtick in the Star Trek movies has never worked for me but I found his performance in this along with the others very engaging. As the hell of Green Room escalates the young pretentiousness fades away as fear for their lives take over as they make new discoveries about themselves. At first you may find them unlikable but you can emphasise with them. Like a good horror movie, Saulnier builds the escalation of the story as if you’re a part of it, the empathy and fear you feel for the main characters stems from that same fear you would have if you were actually in the Green Room. This building of personal fear starts right from the beginning as everyone in the green room is not allowed to leave because of a large man with a gun and the assurance that the police are coming to sort out the situation.
However we know the police aren’t coming and the characters know this, what’s coming is way worse. Patrick Stewart plays Darcy, the owner of the skinhead bar who arrives to personally handle the situation, from the moment he arrives Stewart commands the screen. It’s a great subtle villainous performance, there’s no over the top evilness to him he calmly does what he has to do even when the results don’t go in his favour. Stewart and Saulnier craft the character as this patriarch character and because of the subtleties you can not nail down exactly what he’s planning. There are points in this film where Darcy is calmly negotiating from the other side of the door and he was very convincing in saying that no one would be hurt, that for a moment you could believe him. That’s the brilliance of Patrick Stewart’s casting, we as an audience trust him, so when the violence begins to escalate and Darcy’s methods for killing the band members is unveiled, it is gruesome.
The people inside the Green Room just can’t vanish, people saw them perform, people know they had a gig at a skinhead bar and Darcy’s plan is a reflection of that inconvenience. That problem is what creates the gripping thrill ride of violence and fear, it turns into psychological warfare and then actual warfare all because of a few simple mistakes. Saulnier’s pacing of the film works extremely well, with every new development it creates new problems for both sides and it becomes unbearable at some times. This film can be stressful and the fantastic combination of cinematography, production and sound design only ignites those growing feelings of dread and anxiety for the audience.
Green Room is an escalation of terror based in a very believable reality, that’s why I find the premise so fantastic: I could actually see this happening in real life. It may get unrealistic at points but that’s only because the psyches of the characters are wrought with trauma so their actions are influenced by extreme emotional distress, but you are never taken out of the movie. I think for any horror fan this a great addition to the genre, with the recent trend of cheap unimaginative horror flicks over the years, Green Room is a film that can genuinely terrify an audience.
Also if you’re a parent who has a teenager thinking about starting a punk rock band, Green Room may be the deterrent you’ve been looking for.