A small series of unfortunate events leads the members of a punk rock group (Anton Yelchin, Joe Cole, Alia Shawkat, Callum Turner and David W. Thompson) onto the stage of a rural Nazi skinhead bar. As if that weren’t bad enough, after the gig, they stumble onto the aftermath of a murder in the backroom. The Nazis, led by club owner Darcy (Patrick Stewart), operate on a clear no witnesses policy, so the band and not-really-a-member-of-the-Nazi-club-anymore Amber (Imogen Poots) soon barricade themselves in a room while a horde of murderous assholes (and their dogs) try to kill them.
Where Jeremy Saulnier’s last film, Blue Ruin, applied lessons learned from US arthouse indie
cinema to the vengeance flick, Green Room does something similar to the
classic siege movie, though this one is a bit more invested in fulfilling
certain genre expectations than the earlier film. That’s not a bad thing, mind
you, for Saulnier fulfils these expectations with calm and thought, telling the
horrible misadventures of people way in over their heads through no fault of
their own with an economy and efficiency one can’t help but imagine the patron
saints (say Hawks and Carpenter) of the kind of genre movies this is modelled on
would look upon approvingly.
There’s still quite a bit of US indie cinema tradition on display here,
particularly in the acting approach, especially the line delivery. Now, I’ve
seen a few reviews complaining about the dialogue being difficult to understand,
but to my ears, that’s really just people either needing to get their ears
checked or not able to cope with a somewhat more naturalistic acting style. The
acting is actually pretty great, every Brit on screen (and there are quite a few
of them) putting on their best US accents, and projecting appropriate levels of
hysteria and fear while doing believably stupid shit, their characters not being
action heroes and all. Patrick Stewart does some fine work for once playing a
bad guy (and an American), avoiding scenery chewing for a more banal kind of
evil, which seems the appropriate way to portray a neo Nazi.
Once Green Room gets going, events evolve quickly into some truly
horrible violence, where a badly broken hand looks like a bloody mess, and death
by dog seems as frightening and plain horrifying as it would be in reality.
Particularly the first few deaths hit pretty hard, not because Saulnier is
pulling out all the stops when it comes to gore – he’s certainly not afraid of
showing the bloody consequences of violence but he’s not lingering on
these things either – but because their staging feels believable, real, and
final in a way not many directors even try to achieve. Despite not going in the
direction of torture porn and despite following more of a thriller plot
structure, Green Room does feel like a horror film for most of its
running time, thanks to a lingering sense of dread hanging over much of it.
At the same time, the film is also a really tight, claustrophobic and
inventive siege movie; just one that’s perfectly ready to hit characters and
audience with an expertly timed low blow from time to time.