Green Room (2016)

18 Dec


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Just read the premise for writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s “Green Room”: a punk-rock band must fight to survive a night in a bar run by ruthless neo-Nazis run by Patrick Stewart. Admit it—you want to see this film on the basis of that concept alone.

I’ll be honest and say I was expecting a more conventional (albeit fun and thrilling) film than the one I actually saw (thrilling but definitely not “fun” in the “conventional” sense). It’s a brutally realistic chiller that had my stomach knotted up and got under my skin. And it confused me; but it only confused me because nothing was happening the way I expected it to happen. Then I realize, that’s a good thing! Let me give an example—in this film, someone comes in to help and you expect him to save the day, but what happens instead? Out of the blue, he gets a shotgun blast to the face! No buildup, no tense music—it just happens. And I’m not even going to mention what someone does with an ultra-sharp razor blade.

This simple, straightforward thriller that begins with the introduction of our soon-to-be-in-jeopardy protagonists—a four-member punk-rock band called the Ain’t Rights. They don’t partake in social media, they siphon gas for their van in which they all live/sleep, and they’re not as “hardcore” as they like to think they are but they try. They go from gig to gig collecting as much money as they can, but their next gig is one they’ll wish they avoided. It’s a bar in a part of the Pacific Northwest populated by rednecks and neo-Nazis. After playing their set, all they have to do is collect their payment and leave. But oops—bassist Sam (Alia Shawkat) left her phone in the green room backstage and guitarist Pat (Anton Yelchin) has to retrieve it…only to discover a dead body in the green room. A murder has occurred, and before Pat can call the police, he and the band, including two other members Reece (Joe Cole) and Tiger (Callum Turner), are kept inside the green room while the bar’s owner, Darcy Banker (Patrick Stewart), tries to think of what to do. His plan: close the bar early so the patrons can leave, call in his band of brutes and thugs (as well as man-eating attack dogs), somehow lure the band outside, and murder them, thus eliminating all witnesses. Knowing the danger they’re in, the band, as well as a bystander named Amber (Imogen Poots), realize they must fight to survive if they are even going to consider leaving the room.

The film is an exercise in realistic violence in response to the question of what people can do to other people when facing against each other. I mentioned the shotgun to the face and the razor blade, but there’s also a hand that’s nearly chopped off, a machete to the neck, and even a dog after someone’s throat. This isn’t a film for anyone who’s easily squeamish. The violence is handled in an unpredictable way so that anyone invested in the material will be on-edge wondering what will happen next. As expected from a film like this, you wonder how the characters are going to get out of one situation before they get into another one. But this is a film that disposes of a few of these characters quicker than anyone would have expected.

Who is the right audience for “Green Room”? That’s a difficult question to answer. Certainly not people looking for a b-movie thriller where you whoop and cheer for the bad guys to get their comeuppance. This isn’t a gutsy, go-for-it thrill ride; it’s more of a nightmare, as one character proclaims by the end of the story. Nothing feels overwritten or exaggerated—it’s just a matter of saying, “This is what happens when this happens, so save your popcorn for a different movie.” In that sense, maybe “Green Room” is only for people who just want to see “what happens when this happens,” based on the premise I opened the review with.

“Green Room” is a well-executed thriller with an intriguing hook and a fascinatingly original take on the situation. The actors are terrific (especially Stewart, who is more subtle than a frothing-at-the-mouth bad guy), the cinematography is top-notch, and as was Saulnier’s intent, it left an impact on me that might have actually been better than what I expected.

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