Director – Jeremy Saulnier
Cast – Anton Yelchin, Patrick Stewart, Imogen Poots, Joe Cole, Alia Shawkat, Callum Turner, David W. Thompson, Mark Webber, Macon Blair, Eric Edelstein, Brent Werzner, Taylor Tunes
Release Year – 2016
Reviewed by John of the Dead
This effort made waves earlier this year when it debuted as a limited release (not in my city, unfortunately) but I took my time getting to this as I did not see how it could be a “horror” film. Initially, I was unaware that this would come directed by Jeremy Saulnier, who’s 2014 film Blue Ruin is one of my top 10s for that year. Blue Ruin is also a film that I did not initially label a horror film, but Saulnier found a way to make that happen and did the same with Green Room. Aside from Saulnier directing, I was curious to this piece due to its use of a punk rock band, actors Patrick Steward and Anton Yelchin, and the always reliable nowhere-to-run scenario. Heavy in tension, well-shot, and adorned with violence, Green Room is another win for Jeremy Saulnier and one of the year’s best horror films.
At the bitter end of a long and fruitless tour, independent punk band The Ain’t Rights are booked for a final gig at a run-down bar somewhere in the backwoods of Oregon. Deemed an establishment that caters to the Nazi skinhead crowd, the plan is to play, get paid, and book it home. All is mostly well until they become witnesses to a murder sanctioned by the club, which leaves them in a fight for their lives against an overwhelming force lead by Darcy (Patrick Stewart) – a man who will stop at nothing to contain the incident.
Saulnier’s story continues the trend seen in Blue Ruin, where the protagonists are neck deep in a situation they are ill-prepared for and must rely on skills they don’t have. Bad timing and Murphy’s Law lead to them becoming witnesses to a murder committed by a member of the racist movement, and that results in them being held captive in a room against their will. When the boss, Darcy, is alerted of the situation, he arrives thinking getting rid of the band will be an easy task. He will have his skinheads kill them and then he’ll fake a crime scene elsewhere and dump their bodies there. This means that his men must not use guns to kill the band, as that would make it too hard to cover up forensics. What Darcy and his clan do not anticipate is the resiliency of the band. They not only fight back, but they use whatever they can to their advantage, whether it be weapons or simply their situation. Being outnumbered doesn’t have to affect them negatively, and they continuously prove that throughout the gore-soaked second and third acts.
The horror here bleeds tension and there will be plenty of scenes that leave you on the edge of your seat. I would not call this a traditional horror flick, but a film that garners the horror label due to the level of violence we are given. It has some slasher elements that come later on (with the lights off), but generally the horror stems from the actions taken by the oppressors. It really is scary to believe that such people do exist out there, and it was cool to see Saulnier include references to punk rock and its association with both bad and good skinheads (SHARPs). You’ll also see references to wearing “red laces” (a symbol of spilling blood for the movement). The direction leaves no holds barred and results in full-frontal execution of the kills. These kills are mean and not every one you root for will survive, and those kills will hurt. It is execution like this that leaves a lasting impression on the viewer.
While I definitely enjoyed this effort there was one balk I had with it. I was a bit disappointed in the use of lead antagonist, Darcy. Casting Patrick Stewart was great and he delivered a fine performance. What bothered me was how he was written, or the lack thereof. He is presented as this feared, yet collected figure. He is definitely collected, but we aren’t shown why he should be feared. His cohorts cower in his presence, but aside from smacking them around on a few occasions we don’t witness Darcy deliver enough violence first-hand. He’s a bad man, and I wanted to see him be that bad man.
Overall, Green Room is another win from writer/director Jeremy Saulnier. This gritty ride is heavy in everything horror fans want to see: tension, kills, and full-frontal execution. I highly recommend this one.