Jeremy Saulnier's modern classic, "Green Room," viscerally punches the audience in the face with every death. The script gives each character at least one moment to be human, even those who wouldn't deserve it in a lesser film. Nothing is easy here, every choice is fraught with dire consequences and repercussions. There aren't very many action/thrillers that make killing look incredibly difficult and awful. Sometimes there is slow motion and a swelling of music when the good guys kill the bad guys or silence for when a good guy falls. Life and death moments are when audiences chew their popcorn a little slower, but ultimately are allowed to move on unscathed to the next scene.
If the description for this movie could only be one sentence long, it would have to be "Punks vs. Skinheads in the Pacific Northwest," but luckily, there is more room to explain. Pat, Sam, Tiger and Reece are in a punk band called "The Ain't Rights." They have just spent the last of their money getting to Seaside, Oregon, to play a show, only to find it's been cancelled. This leaves this East Coast punk band basically stranded on the West Coast with no money or gas. A fan finds them a gig outside Portland at a neo-Nazi clubhouse in the woods.
It would be cruel to give away anything more about the plot other than to say the plan goes horribly wrong and the peaceful band must try to survive a steady onslaught of murderous skinheads. That premise sounds like something geared up for a B-movie or a direct-to-DVD gore-fest; however, "The Green Room" is an expertly crafted exercise in steadily building tension and dread.
In just a few short scenes, Saulnier, who hails from a Virginia suburb, turns the script and direction in a way that the audience is fully empathizing with the four-piece punk band from back east. Anton Yelchin cuts such a likable presence as the band's so-called leader, that when basically dropped into the middle of hell, the intensity of the band's plight and the brutality of the violence becomes fairly nerve shredding. If the film were more lowbrow in its aspirations, the violence and gore would seem gratuitous, but here it only adds to the nightmarish quality of the entire experience.
Cast against type, Sir Patrick Stewart (Captain Jean-Luc Picard in "Star Trek: The Next Generation") plays the leader of the neo-Nazis. He is a terrifying figure without once having to yell to get his point across. His right hand man is played by Macon Blair, the star of Saulnier's last film, "Blue Ruin." The contrast between the two performances is incredible and Blair proves to be an actor who will move on to massive performances in the future. Stewart and Blair together are a pair of the best on-screen villains in years.
All hyperbole aside, "The Green Room" is a phenomenal action/thriller/horror hybrid that shares DNA with classic exploitation films of the 1970s, punk music from the 1980s and a modern visual vocabulary. Every frame is alive with vibrant color, gritty texture and edgy performances. The script is so tightly wound that every scene feels like the inevitable follow-up to what came previous. Poor choices are made by all the characters, but they feel earned and made out of terror instead of plot contrivances.
"Green Room" is likely to scare off anyone considering a move to Portland in the near future, but that's probably all right.
Dir. Jeremy Saulnier
Now playing at Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX