Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Writer: Jeremy Saulnier
Producer: Neil Kopp, Anish Savjani, Victor Moyers
Stars: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Mark Webber, Eric Edelstein, Macon Blair, Kai Lennox, Patrick Stewart
A punk band becomes trapped inside a neo-Nazi nightclub after inadvertently witnessing a horrible crime.
Life on the road as struggling punk band The Ain’t Rights is far from the fashionable rocker lifestyle young musicians Pat, Sam, Tiger, and Reece probably had in mind. Their lot consists of siphoning fuel from parked cars, sleeping in a fart-filled van, and splitting a $28 payday four ways.
Groupies, catering tables, and posh hotel suites are nowhere to be found in this scrabbling underground scene of pizza parlor performances and uninterested audiences with fewer people than the band. There is, however, a green room.
Anxious for a paying gig, any paying gig, The Ain’t Rights spit another gallon of gas into their tank and head to a remote Oregon forest where they’ve been hastily added to open a show for a clubhouse full of neo-Nazis. A tough crowd for sure, but the foursome is confident they can handle it. That is until Pat and his pals inadvertently spy something they shouldn’t while packing up their gear. Now the band is trapped in that green room, desperate for a way out against a gang of skinheads eager to eliminate any potential threat to their organization.
The telltale sign of a powerhouse thriller is an ability to remain riveting within a to-the-point premise not reliant on gotcha twists or sensationalized artifice to elevate suspense. “Green Room” has that sign. It has that power. Summarized succinctly as a siege story, writer/director Jeremy Saulnier’s fierce film is deceptively uncomplicated in its outline, though labeling it as simplistic would be a mistake.
Saulnier’s screenplay is smart without trying to outsmart the audience and unpredictable without being unnecessarily one step ahead. Similar storylines can be prolonged battles of willpower or weaponry between two distinct factions, but there is a psychological side to the physical feeling of tension in “Green Room.” Adding intriguing character drama layers the fiction in an engaging way that other standoff films miss with strictly action-oriented setups.
Acting, atmosphere, and editing converge to birth a compelling cinematic story long before Pat and his band even book their ill-fated gig. Sickly green tints to the shadows, pulsating rhythms hypnotically entrancing the score, every element is committed to weaving an immediate sense of danger infecting every inch of the setting, and each subsequent scene continues adding suffocating pressure to that dread.
Fraught with overwhelming fear from its opening moments, “Green Room” puts a knot in the pit of the stomach that is impossible to untie. Only when end credits roll does the film finally grant permission to at last take a well-earned gasp of relief.
“Green Room” is just as clever at casting, particularly in the brilliance of having Patrick Stewart play white supremacist ringleader Darcy. Someone such as Henry Rollins in the same role using the same dialogue would naturally be a different character, but part of that would be due to preconceptions based on his previous portrayals and particular physical stature. Stewart inherently adds a depth of intellectual intimidation before uttering a single word. He is fearsome for his cold, cunning, calculating mind, and his is a presence uniquely suited for presenting this personality in a very particular way.
Around the 60-minute mark, “Green Room” finally takes a breath before regrouping for the climax. This moment of quiet character development is the first time a crack shows through the veneer of grisly realism that captivates and shocks for so much of the first hour. Here the film settles into some structuring that employs callback conversations and other screenplay standards wobbling the immersion factor. “Green Room” gets a little too traditional in its storytelling techniques during this stage, though making it this far before excusing the viewer to be taken out of the tension is still an impressive accomplishment.
Pick your preferred passé pull-quote from the Big Book of Film Critic Clichés to describe “Green Room” with a hyphen: high-octane, white-knuckle, tour-de-force, maybe even dust off thrill-ride. Those phrases may be tired, but the film certainly isn’t. “Green Room” is a satisfying stunner of almost unbearable suspense, expertly plotted and masterfully realized.
Review Score: 90