Terror comes in many forms, but none is more spine tingling than being a low rent punk band playing in front of neo-nazis for six hundred dollars. At least, that is what Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room hopes to impress on those brave enough to pay the twelve dollar door price. As the film begins it’s a bit hard to gather exactly what kind of show this is going to be. After all, there have been plenty of horror films that have worn the clothes of heavy metal, but have gotten a bit squeamish when it’s characters started brawling in the mosh pit. However, it quickly become clear that this is very much not a family show, and if you don’t watch out for fellow audience members you may not just walk out of the venue with your personal space invaded, but a few broken bones to your name.
It’s been a long, and unprofitable tour for The Ain’t Rights, and it just might be time to pack it in. However, they’ve made so little from their mid afternoon diner gigs that they don’t even have enough cash for gas. Luckily, Tad (David W. Thompson), a host of a rinky dink radio station has a cousin who can get them one last gig. Unfortunately, it’s at a bar populated by white supremacists who are less than pleased with their song choices. On their way out, Sam (Alia Shawkat) leaves her phone in the green room and when Pat (Anton Yelchin) goes in to get it, he comes across the scene of a murder. Determined to eliminate all witnesses, the club calls upon devious owner Darcy Banker (Patrick Stewart), to contain the situation and ensure that none of these folks will live to perform a Dead Kennedys cover again.
Saulnier crafts a gritty and remarkably tense environment in what ultimately devolves into the most brutal game of freeze tag ever played. There are certain films that simply have violence in them, and others that make that brutality into an art. Green Room is emphatically the latter. It’s less a shlockly horror flick and more a small scale war film. There are some gut wrenching action sequences here, each just long enough to wring maximum amount of suspense from their contained environments, dark corners, and uncompromising players. Every gunshot, dog bite, and knife slash is shown in graphic detail, but not shot in a glamorous or exploitive way. Every wound looks painful, with the confrontations looking more like authentic battle footage than scenes from a film.
Unfortunately, Saulnier is a great deal weaker behind the pen than the camera. In fact, the first act is fairly weak. We’re not really given a reason to care about or even like these band of punks. Sure, they’re authentic, but almost to a fault. There’s so little to relate to in their interactions that it feels like there might as well be watching this band hang out by their band from afar, and that there might as well not even be dialogue at all. However, this is no fault of the actors, who all do a great job at inhabiting these thin characters. Yelchin in particular proves once that he is a leading man waiting to happen, making his vulnerable yet strong character by far the most likable in the film. The nazis are a bit more well drawn, with a few of them really getting to shine as we soak in their interactions and reactions to this situation. However, those characters are undercut a bit by their fairly un-impressive leader. Stewart is an absolutely wonderful actor, but he’s not so much given a character here so much as an outfit and a funny voice. It feels a bit like stunt casting, having a triple a performer use his god given screen presence to make a weak villain work.
Green Room is an enjoyable gig for gore hounds and genre movie fans. At it’s best, it’s wickedly violent, sharply funny, and deeply entertaining. However, there are a whole lot of directing aerobics holding up a subpar script, which ultimately keep it from being as strong as it could have been. It’s a cheap, bloody hamburger from the kind of restaurant you need to wear a bib for, and if that’s your craving, than look no further.