The movie “Green Room” follows the Ain’t Rights, a hardcore punk band from D.C. making their way through a disappointing tour across the Pacific Northwest. After a college show falls through, Tiger (Callum Turner), Pat (Anton Yelchin), Reece (Joe Cole) and Sam (Alia Shawkat) eagerly take a gig in the backwoods of Oregon. It’s a matinee and it pays well, they just should not talk politics. It is obvious why: the venue is full of combat boots and shaved heads, the walls covered with white-supremacist slogans and neo-Nazi graffiti. There are even a couple Confederate flags.
Despite the atmosphere, the Ain’t Rights are a good band and they manage to win over the crowd. But when Pat hangs back to retrieve Sam’s phone, he finds a guy named Werm and two young women, Amber (Imogen Poots) and Emily, the latter of whom Werm has just stabbed in the head. The band is then held in the club’s green room with Amber, and must escape before he catches them, or worse.
“Green Room,” the newest film by rising star Jeremy Saulnier, is a movie that I personally liked a lot. It is an improvement on just about every aspect of Saulnier’s previous film, 2013’s also-brilliant “Blue Ruin,” from the smooth pacing to the sense of DIY punk-rock grit that was only partial in that film’s story. “Green Room” is also the most incredibly intense thriller since last year’s “Sicario,” but it is also a step above. I say this because while “Sicario” gave the audience some breathing room and lightness between its high-tension set pieces and looming dread, “Green Room” does not. It refuses to.
In a lesser director’s hands, that statement could mean a lot of unpleasant things, but we have Jeremy Saulnier, who retains utmost control of the story. From the very moment the Ain’t Rights drive up to the venue, “Green Room” puts the audience (and some characters) in a chokehold and refuses to let go. There is no doubt that the band is in danger, and there was never a moment that the danger was not felt in the audience. This is due in large part to the brilliant production design. The club looks as grimy and gross as real punk venues do, and the atmosphere of low-brow white power garbage is overbearing without ever feeling forced. Even the way the skinheads attack the band makes sense, being as brutish and sloppy as the villains themselves.
When the violence kicks off, it is mostly done with crude weapons like knives, boxcutters and a few dogs, and Saulnier does not shy away from the gore. Said gore is not to be taken lightly; there are no buckets of fake-looking blood here, and every cut, bite, bullet wound and broken bone is genuinely painful to watch and has weight and impact. This is solidified by the fantastic cast, in particular Yelchin and Poots, who bring humanity to characters that could have just been cardboard ciphers for the violence. Like their characters, the audience is made to feel trapped, especially once Patrick Stewart shows up as Darcy, the leader of the skinheads. Stewart is “Green Room’s” secret weapon, delivering one of the scariest villain performances since “No Country for Old Men.” His solemn, bespectacled old man character sits back for most of the action, but still oozes danger from the moment you first see him.
To say that “Green Room” is intense all the way through would be to undersell how intense it is. This is a brutally violent movie with basically no levity, and it was not easy to sit through, even for a desensitized weirdo like myself. I recommend it, but it is definitely not for everyone. It is not as gross or as graphic as other recent gory movies, but I found it far scarier than 2015’s “Bone Tomahawk” or “It Follows,” which both have big scenes of disturbing violence. Unlike those two movies, “Green Room” was a more immersive experience overall. It stuck with me, and not just because of the violence. So, if you think you can take it, sleep on the decision. Then, if you still want to see the movie, go for it. “Green Room” is impeccably made, well acted and razor-sharp. And, if I do say so myself, it’s pretty damn punk.