Green Room is the third and final film of Jeremy Saulnier’s aptly-dubbed “Clusterfuck Trilogy”, a group of spiritually successive films that involve situations that are, well, clusterfucks… Though it debuted at Cannes in 2015, most folks weren’t able to sink their teeth into Saulnier’s realistic and visceral depiction of a touring band trapped in a neo-Nazi stronghold until the following year (including us), and it quickly gained momentum after its wider release for its brutality and stellar cast. If you haven’t seen this flick, here’s your weekly warning to stop right here, give the trailer a watch and consider firing up the full film before reading on into our spoiler-filled review or reviewing on into our spoiler-filled podcast. You’ve been warned.
Reviewed by: Jake
D.C. area hardcore band The Ain't Rights are giggin’. They’re giggin’ so hard they’re waking up in cornfields with empty gas tanks because they are so hard. They’re giggin’ so hard they’re taking the tour all the way to Oregon even though they’re playing matinee sets at dives for a few bucks and some PBR’s. Despite the luxurious situation, they’re out of money and considering siphoning gas all the way back to Maryland. As a last ditch effort, they take a gig at an off-the-beaten-path bar deep in the Oregon Woods. The only guidance they get are some directions and a recommendation to play their harder, older stuff because it’s less political and therefore less likely to land them in hot water with the concertgoers.
Arriving at the bar, the band is shown their way to the green room and when they see the decor (mostly Confederate flag-related) they get the bright idea to roll out on stage and cover the Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”.
Naturally, this is a terrible idea and people hate it. However, the band quickly wins over the smelly, shaved-headed white dudes in the crowd with their original stuff. Crisis averted. The set is a success. After they get off stage they notice the roadies already have all their stuff in the hallway and seem in a hurry to help get them out of the bar. Pat (Anton Yelchin) goes back into the room to grab a forgotten cell phone and quickly notices a girl with a knife lodged all the way into her skull. The employees realize this and herd the group back into the green room to wait for the boss man, Darcy (Patrick Stewart) to decide what to do.
This is where the clusterfuck ensues. The skinheads are not keen on letting the band leave, and the fear and uncertainty quickly turn things from bad to worse as the band is trapped in a room in a compound chock full of ruthless assholes who really don’t have any problems murdering more people. The majority of the movie post-entrapment involves the band and their new friend and skinhead defector, Amber (Imogen Poots) desperately trying to escape the green room, only to be forced back inside by the more prepared and well armed neo-Nazi proprietors. One-by-one, the band members are killed off until a wounded Pat and Amber are all that remains. Pat recounts an experience he had playing paintball against military vets and recalls how one of his buddies got tired of getting beaten and decided to say “fuck it” and go wild. The move caught the opponent off guard and he took them out. He and Amber arm themselves and fight back, beating the skinheads at their own game and surprising them with their tactics. Eventually, Pat and Amber find Darcy and a few of his remaining cronies staging the band’s van to make it look like they had been killed while trespassing and stealing. They ambush and hold them at gunpoints, turning the tides. Darcy tries to flee and is shot to death, along with his other men. Pat and Amber wait for the police to arrive.
What the Movie Does Right
This is an incredibly brutal and realistic film. Holy smokes. The gore on display here is extremely graphic but is not over-the-top. It does not waste its graphic moments by lingering for too long or being gratuitous for gratuity’s sake. Everything that happens to the characters in the movie is so violent and forceful that it makes for a harrowing watch and frankly, it makes it a little difficult to keep your eyes on at moments. I mean that in the best way possible because this is the movie’s horror bread & butter, so to speak, and it’s what brings it firmly into the genre.
It’s also one of the premier examples I can think of where dumb character decisions actually make sense to me. The panic on screen and the actions that result from said panic are totally within reason. Normally, we find a ton of gripes with how characters in the genre interact with their world (hell, we have entire movies that satirize it like Scream) but here, it all feels correct. That’s impressive.
I mentioned Patrick Stewart is in this flick, right? Yeah, he’s Patrick Stewart and he’s great. The character of Darcy is cold, calm and calculated and he’s impossible to take your eyes off whenever he’s on screen. The fact that I consider him the third most memorable part of the film is saying a whole hell of a lot. Imogen Poots’ Amber is a strong character with a good arc (in a movie that slightly lacks thorough development, for good reason), and Anton Yelchin steals the show in what is one of his final roles before his tragic death. Yelchin’s Pat is flat out amazing. He’s a cool and believable character who is tremendously acted by a fucking maestro. Pour some out, everyone.
For a movie that is mostly concerned with a band getting murdered by skinheads, it’s hard to think about where the depth to the proceedings comes into play. This is a movie that is chock-full of meaning with every single line that is uttered by its characters and with every nameless, red-shoelaced goon that rolls into the bar. The attention to detail is IMMENSE and as a result, the immersion factor here is incredibly high. This is a small/confined, but Grade A world without falling prey to almost any exposition that hampers the pacing and believability of almost any movie to at least some degree.
What the Movie Does Wrong
So few things. So few. Honestly, most of them fall into the nitpick category we all know and love so much. The overall story is a bit simplistic and there’s some definite deus ex machina to some of the resolution but more than almost any movie we have reviewed here, I’m lacking things to say for this part of the review. Some will argue that the film isn’t out & out horror, and though they’d be dead wrong about that, I can say that this fits into a place that is probably slightly less able to scratch the traditional horror itch than other genre films out there.
Story: 8.5 - The only thing keeping this from the conversation of perfect 10 for me is that, even with all the depth to the world, this is still a world where neo-Nazis do some bad shit to a band because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. There isn’t anything groundbreaking from an overall story standpoint going on, but it does what it chooses to do impeccably.
World-Building / Immersion: 10 - The attention to detail here and the events that take place are amazing in their beautiful (ugly) simplicity and the movie pulls you in more than most I can think of despite how hard it is to watch from a pure brutality standpoint.7
Scare-Factor: 7 - Green Room makes most of its scare score in the frightful scenario it paints and the resulting brutality that ensues. The bumps in the night are skinheads. That keeps it from a tippy-top score, but watch this and tell me your heart doesn’t race.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 8 - God damn, the gore looks incredibly brutal, and the confining space is more than adequately claustrophobic. Mission accomplished.
Overall: 8.5 - This movie takes me near the brink of a panic attack. It’s extremely difficult to watch in the best possible way from a horror standpoint, and anyone/everyone who likes the genre absolutely needs to see it.