Green Room is an adrenaline shot to the heart while you’re already on PCP. It’s gonna Fuck. You. UP.
That’s not hyperbole. Hyperbole is for films that can be exaggerated. Green Room isn’t so weak.
The intensity of Green Room is impossible to overstate. Just ask the clawmarks that I dug deep into the armrests of seat F4 in the VIP Auditorium 1 at the Regal Atlantic Station 18 how intense this movie is.
The pulse-raising scenario is simple enough. Four young punks, Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole), and Tiger (Callum Turner), are The Ain’t Rights, a punk band that currently is on its last rope in a national tour, barely able to keep their van running. One last opportunity is given to them at a club outside Portland, Oregon. Said club turns out to be a Neo-Nazi bar.
After their set, in a bit of unfortunate timing, they go back into their green room to find a murder has occurred. The club, owned by Neo-Nazi gang leader Darcy (Patrick Stewart), can’t let them leave alive having witnessed that. The Ain’t Rights aren’t going to accept that, and decide to fight their way out.
It doesn’t go well.
This is director Jeremy Saulnier’s third movie, following up on 2014’s Blue Ruin, and it picks up on its predecessor’s predilection for violence. But not just violence, because there’s plenty of violence in your average action flick.
No, Green Room is the kind of film that absolutely does not shy away from the gruesomeness or weight of violence. Every knife blow and gunshot rips its victim apart and the bloody bodies are a sight of horror, not victory.
It even carries over into the way that audiences react to the carnage. There is no moment for the audience to cheer in Green Room. All that I heard reach my ears were gasps and “OH DAMN”s.
Even when our heroes get their smallest victories against the savage fascists that seek to end their lives, it’s done at a cost. Some compromise that they had to make, some horrific bit of gore that ended up resulting from what they’d done.
Saulnier knows how to give the violence in his film weight. And that’s what gives it tension. That horror that is visited by every act of violence (the first major one in the films sees Pat’s hand nearly severed from his wrist) makes the entire film feel like balancing on the edge of a cliff, every moment a gust of wind coming closer to pushing you off.
As soon as the band stumbles upon the murder, Green Room doesn’t let up on the viewer. It’s an oppressive atmosphere, putting you under its thumb and letting you squirm. You occasionally have just long enough to deflate before the film explodes at you again. As a viewer, you never feel safe, and you fully believe that it is at some point possible for every single person in this film to die.
This is Saulnier’s incredibly tight directorial control over the film, making a thrilling action epic that feels as grimy and actively hostile as anyone could imagine, and over the audience, pushing and pulling them and prodding them at every possible step to dance to his sadistic will.
But it isn’t just the power and control of the filmmaking. It’s the atmosphere that’s set up. Saulnier makes his world look and sound as intense as the story that he’s telling. The grimy club is ominous from the moment we drive up on it, and the abundance of white supremacist slogans and imagery constantly peering over the character’s shoulders activates a certain level of gut-level disgust.
And of course, the music! An extreme film has extreme music, and there’s plenty of hardcore punk and death metal to go around. At least for the first half, while the club is up and running. There’s some fantastic little music moments, from the Ain’t Rights opening song at the club which is a cover of the Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” (which is the most punk thing ever) to the ominious “War Ensemble” by Slayer that plays when Darcy is contemplating how to best get this band out of his club.
But even after the live music drops off, the occasional ominous ambient track notwithstanding, that punk aesthetic seems infused into the rhythms of the film, its short blasts of violence, its dirty lo-fi feel. Even when the punk isn’t playing, the film is playing punk.
I haven’t said much on performance, but it’s absolutely worth praising. The vulnerability and likeability the Ain’t Rights display make them all the easier to get attached to (which to be fair, isn’t advisable for the enjoyment of this film) and the sheer menace the Neo-Nazis give this film (especially Patrick Stewart playing well against type, and young upstart Macon Blair playing equal parts menace and pathetic) are as important as every bit of violence and tension Saulnier puts into this film.
Green Room is a hard watch to be sure. But it’s the kind of film that low-budget filmmaking is capable of. It’s a blast of contained, raw power that gets under your skin and leaves you breathless until the very end, when it dropkicks you into the stratosphere.