Following up on Blue Ruin, his violent meditation on cyclical revenge, Green Room finds Jeremy Saulnier with his biggest budget yet, and he rightly sets out to make the most of it. Drawing on his experiences growing up around DC’s own hardcore punk scene, Saulnier builds and releases tension masterfully. And though he’s not shy about graphic violence and gore, he uses them deliberately and sparingly, spending most of his time on more psychological horrors.
The hapless band that ends up besieged inside the green room — Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole), and Tiger (Callum Turner) — can tell from the start that they don’t belong here. But their “tour” relies on siphoning gas to get their van from one town to another, and when an organizer’s incompetence means they only make $27.50 for screaming through the lunch shift in a Mexican restaurant, they need to take what they can get. The organizer’s cousin Daniel (Mark Webber) can get them a gig later that day for $350, so despite knowing that it’s mostly a “boots-and-braces” crowd they head way out into the woods.
The place is less a venue than a compound where a group of skinheads organize and recruit disaffected young punks. Growing up knowing some people around the punk scene, it’s easy to assume that the white-power symbolism is mostly posturing for shock value. The band seems to think so too, and they lead off their set by covering the Dead Kennedy’s anti-racist anthem “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”. The crowd mostly goes along with it, but they get some really creepy leers from a few evident regulars like Werm (Brent Werzner) and Big Justin (Eric Edelstein).
Things don’t really go sideways until the end of their set, though, when they return backstage to find Gabe (Saulnier’s regular star Macon Blair) hustling their equipment out. Pat ducks into the green room to grab Pat’s mobile phone, only to come face to face with Werm over the body of a young woman with a knife firmly lodged in her skull as her friend Emily (Imogen Poots) stands on in mute shock.
The band barricade themselves inside the green room as the show goes on over the PA. They panic, trying to figure their way out, as outside the skins — now directed by their leader, Darcy (Patrick Stewart) — begin making meticulous arrangements to dispose of these outsiders with as little attention from the authorities as possible.
The ensuing siege is nothing short of brutal, as Saulnier cuts between the two sides. Darcy tells his red-laced troops to turn in their guns, since bullets could be traced, and even digging one out would raise uncomfortable questions for the story he plans to tell. So for the most part the combatants are carving each other up with box-cutters and fighting dogs, which means lots of graphic wound makeup. But don’t worry, firearms fans: like any good bar there’s a shotgun stashed away, and you know that won’t go unused.
For all its sound and fury, though, there doesn’t seem to be any deeper meaning or purpose behind Green Room. Pat gets a disjointed story about playing paintball with some punk friends against a team of ex-Marines, culminating in the idea that the unprepared amateurs can still win if they throw caution to the wind and go as hard and crazy as possible. It’s less than Blue Ruin‘s food for thought; closer to a light snack. It’s fine if you’re looking for a well-executed bloody brawl, but it is what it is, and nothing more.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: fail.