When I saw the trailer for Green Room, I thought it was going to be a run of the mill “torture porn” film that just wanted to make a quick buck. It surprised me when I saw that Patrick Stewart was starring in it, because this seemed like a script that he wouldn’t even use as toilet paper. But after watching the film (with very low expectations, mind you), I not only came out of the film liking it, I’m considering it in my top 10 of the year so far. Green Room is the prime example of the phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
The film follows The Ain’t Rights, a punk band that’s touring the country in a beat up van — similar to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. After running low on cash and gas to siphon, the band gets a show booked at a sketchy looking establishment deep in the Oregon woods. With the confederate flags and “White Power” stickers on the walls, it quickly becomes clear that the establishment is run and frequented by white supremacists. After a rocky start with a cover of the Dead Kennedys’ song, “Nazi Punks, Fuck Off,” they barely finish the set with glasses and middle fingers aimed toward them. As they’re about to leave, the bassist, Pat (Anton Yelchin), goes back to the green room for his phone and finds a dead woman on the ground. From there, Pat, the band and the dead girl’s friend (Imogen Poots) lock themselves in while the head honcho, Darcy (Stewart) comes up with a plan to fix the situation.
Quickly, the film’s tone takes a drastic turn when the neo-nazis suddenly switch from simply assholes to murderous assholes. With machetes, shotguns and throat eating dogs, director Jeremy Saulnier doesn’t hold back with the brutal (and creative) violence. The show starts when Pat is coerced by Darcy to give him a loaded gun in the room stolen from the bouncer — not knowing that there are men on the other side equipped with machetes. By the end of that brawl, he is left with a mangled arm and a barely hanging hand. The gore was heavy but wasn’t the defining point of the film. In fact, a lot of the killing gets done very quickly and isn’t terribly drawn out.
What Saulnier really focuses on are the different characters of the film. Saulnier had so much fun critiquing the horror film tropes and having meta moments such as the famous “We should split up” line. Yelchin and Poots’ characters were consistent throughout. Even with war paint on their faces and shotguns, they didn’t suddenly turn into stone cold action stars at the end, but instead had real emotions. Even some of the villains had a touch of heart now and again. Saulnier wanted to show that people were still human even if they have been trained to kill. The dialogue was one of the more interesting aspects; in horror, good dialogue is usually substituted for more blood and guts, but Saulnier managed to implement a dark and humorous spin. When they’re about to start playing, guitarist, Sam (Alia Shawkat), said, “I’m going to tell them [the audience] you’re Jewish” if he didn’t go through with performing the Dead Kennedys’ song. And even when they’re being chased down, Pat still finds the time to a pep talk about and comparing paintball to shotguns and knives.
And of course, everyone is wondering how Stewart did as a racist villain. As a guy who’s normally a hero, it’s fascinating to see him take this on. While he never actually takes part in the killing, he’s a sadistic mastermind who tries to make sure that the band never sees the light of day. The neo-nazis look up to him as the head honcho, but also as a father figure. It’s especially interesting considering that some of the killers are very young, practically teenagers.
Green Room is more than just a torture porn film; it’s a hardcore punk show. Saulnier takes a situation that seems impossible to get out of and creates the ultimate bloody fantasy. Sometimes it gets so absurd, that it feels like a horror version of Scott Pilgrim, but it works. Saulnier’s experience with the hardcore punk scene makes the music, atmosphere and characters feel natural. There’s no moral of the story or change of heart in the protagonists; they just want to get the fuck out. To me, that is the definition of punk rock.