Punks versus Skinheads.
Well, this wasn’t easy to watch. Going in I knew little about Green Room, but I had high expectations. It won first place in the audience awards at last year’s Fantastic Fest, and I have heard nothing but positive buzz leading up to it’s release. I have to say, that buzz was well earned.
Green Room follows the misbehavior of a small up and coming punk band “The Ain’t Rights” as they traverse the Pacific Northwest. They are poor and dirty, about what you’d expect from a struggling punk band. Green Room opens with the band passed out in their old beat up van, fresh out of gas, in the middle of nowhere. We follow the band as they siphon for gas out of necessity, which does a great job of summing up who these people are in one short scene.. Their stop in Seaside for an interview/show combo doesn’t go as planned when their gig is cancelled due to a “vomit and fecal matter” incident.
Out of money and out of luck, the band manages to nail a gig outside of Portland, in what turns out to be a Neo-Nazi skinhead bar. And as you can image, things only get worse from there. The Ain’t Rights are soon forced into a battle for their survival, where they must hole up in the venue’s green room for their only chance to make it out alive.
One thing Green Room does right is setting up its characters and making you care about each member of The Ain’t Right’s before all hell breaks loose. The majority of the first act is solely dedicated to experiencing the day to day life of an unknown punk band. It doesn’t romanticize the “starving artist” cliche and it shows how they have to break the law to just get by, and emphasizes their rebellious nature, while at the same time showing they are a group of generally good-hearted kids. This makes it all the more effective once they start getting killed off in brutal, and do I mean brutal ways.
Seriously, the level of violence in this film is insane. I’m not usually squeamish when it comes to gore, but my god did this film test my mettle. Limbs are hacked and ripped off, stomachs are cut open, people are eaten alive by dogs. And it’s all seen in graphic detail. It pairs well with the dirty, punk aesthetic that the film strives for.
This savage violence helps ramp up the stakes tremendously. These explosions of extreme violence actually made me feel afraid for the members of The Ain’t Rights, because I knew that as soon as shit hits the fan, terrible things were going to happen to them. Director Jeremy Saulnier is able to build tension extremely well over the course of the film, utilizing the violence to his film-making advantage. Saulnier doesn’t waste this violence, he doesn’t rush to the action. He takes his time building the stakes, leaving you stranded in the green room with these kids as they try and figure their way out of an unwinnable situation.
It’s such a breath of fresh air to have characters in a horror/slasher movie that aren’t complete idiots. The Ain’t Rights make multiple smart and witty decisions that helps you appreciate their ingenuity, as they try their best to remain in control of the situation. Imogen Poots is a total bad ass as Amber, an outsider who ends up trapped with The Ain’t Rights, and I bought into the ferocity of her character when contrasted with the rest of the band members. Anton Yelchin as Pat acts as the unsure and reluctant leader, and he does a great job at portraying the nervous mediator between The Ain’t Rights and Darcy (Patrick Stewart), the owner of the bar.
Stewart gives the standout performance of the film. His character was so menacing with his calm, calculated demeanor. He harbored no ill will towards The Ain’t Rights, they were just in the wrong place, at the wrong time. But for that reason they needed to go, and it’s this almost “rough day at the office” vibe that Stewart brings to the character that makes him a great villain. All this murder and gore almost seems routine to him, and is just part of the job. He’s so evil due to his apathetic approach to the situation, and Stewart pulls this off marvelously.
Eventually, the film does grow a bit repetitive. The Ain’t Rights try and escape multiple times from the green room, but again and again their plans fail, with expected horrible results. During the first half of them film Darcy keeps introducing new obstacles for the punks to overcome, but eventually this stops, and The Ain’t Rights have to face the same difficulties multiple times. Fortunately, this doesn’t last very long before the film begins to enter it’s climax, but the issue is still there.
All in all, Green Room is a grisly, darkly funny survival/horror film that exhibits some of the best traits of the genre. It is able to develop a likable cast of characters, and then shows no remorse violently killing them off, giving the film real palpable stakes. While the film does begin to wear a little thin in the final act, the rest of Green Room is a ride worth experiencing. A true punk rock take on the survival horror genre.