We’ve all heard the saying, “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Many have probably fallen into this situation at least once in their life. One time, I walked into a surprise birthday party mere seconds before the birthday person walked in, completely ruining the surprise. These encounters are most often innocent enough and are probably shared as bits of small talk or chitchat to engage others in conversations. In Jeremy Saulnier’s new film, Green Room, this sentiment takes a cruel turn into nightmarish territory when a punk rock group called The Ain’t Rights encounter a community of white supremacists. Mr. Saulnier exceptionally turns a simple story into an unflinching and tension-filled demonstration of survival horror.
A struggling punk rock band touring on the road is down to their last few stops, scrounging for shows and siphoning gas to make it from town to town. Not ones to turn down a paying gig, The Ain’t Rights jump at the opportunity to perform their latest show. However, the concert is on the outskirts of town in a community controlled by white supremacists. The group performs to a hostile crowd that spits and throws beer cans in their direction. Eager to leave, The Ain’t Rights quickly gather their gear and are nearly out the back door. A final return to the green room for a forgotten phone interrupts a murder, and as witnesses, the band is taken captive by the owner of the club (Patrick Stewart), and a fight for survival ensues.
Jeremy Saulnier is good at taking characters and placing them in the middle of terrible situations that they have no control over. The process for the characters becomes forced action, most often action that requires them to commit horrifying acts to survive. But what makes this simple narrative approach so effective is the skill of Mr. Saulnier, who understands how to manipulate viewers in inventive ways, eliciting empathy for every emotional moment the characters experience. In Green Room, Mr. Saulnier combines all of the successful elements from his previous films and builds a story that breathes tension and anxiety. Whether it’s the calm manipulation of a club owner coaxing a group of young people into submission through a locked door, or the frantic, pulse-pounding cat-and-mouse chase, there are moments that will make you squirm and others that will push you to the edge of your seat.
The film works best when gleefully indulging in these situations, however, where Mr. Saulnier stumbled in the past with aspects of character composition or narrative cohesiveness, here the director successfully compliments these features nicely. There are even small moments of comedic levity as the captive group discusses their “stranded-on-a-desert-island” band—a moment that had a big applause at the screening I attended after the choice was made from one of the characters. Things lead to a finale that is less exciting and somewhat predictable, yet still satisfying because the characters finally surrender to the situation and embrace their punk rock attitudes.
Green Room is helped by the very dependable talents of Anton Yelchin and Alia Shawkat and some fine moments from Joe Cole and Callum Turner—the four actors comprising The Ain’t Rights. In a wonderful casting choice, Patrick Stewart plays the villainous club owner Darcy. Mr. Stewart is calmly menacing and effectively evil throughout the entire film.
Green Room is very much the definition of punk. A film that understands the rules, but decides to play by its own tune—a fast, aggressive, and stripped-down tune. While the story concerns a group of young people who are in the wrong place at the wrong time, the film may be an opposing version of this. It is essentially the right film at the right time amidst the stale and overused versions of this type of movie; Green Room is a brutally refreshing interpretation.
Movie Score: 4/5