Review: Green Room (2015)
Green Room follows punk band road dogs, the Ain’t Rights (Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Callum Turner, Joe Cole), driving the Pacific Northwest at the tail end of a tour. After a cancelled show, the band picks up one final gig at a backwoods punk bar near Portland. After the show, the band accidentally witnesses a murder, and holes up inside the venue’s green room to hold off the neo-nazi owners who seek to eliminate them as witnesses and erase any trace of their crime.
Green Room is a ferocious film. Viewers with heart conditions beware—this sucker will get your pulse racing. It’s a masterful exercise in tension from Jeremy Saulnier, the cinematographer-turned-director behind the 2014 critical darling, Blue Ruin. Similar to Blue Ruin, Green Room strips away all excess plot and character trappings. There’s little-to-no backstory here. Characters don’t pause to take in the meaning of the events unfolding around them. Like the punk music it features, the film is just the essentials: character, conflict, and relentless aggression.
It’s structured as a series of escalating standoffs, much like the ones in John Carpenter’s great siege thriller, Assault on Precinct 13. After a brief introduction to the band’s situation and their relationships with each other, they witness the crime and hole up in the green room behind a locked door. At first, the band, ignorant of context and details, think they can negotiate their way out of the situation, but as more time passes, they soon realize the surety of their fate. The club’s stoic owner, Darcy Banker (Patrick Stewart), realizes the need to eliminate the band members from the get-go. But he never plays his hand. He tries to lure them out by playing to their pragmatism, all the while rallying his neo-nazi cronies to dispatch of them with machetes and pitbulls (no guns), so as to allow them to cover up their deaths in the aftermath.
While Saulnier’s filmmaking is blisteringly effective at ratcheting up the tension, Stewart is key to the film’s success. He refuses to allow ideology to motivate his villain, instead playing Darcy as a servant of pragmatism, understated and simmering. It’s a terrifying performance from the beloved thespian, paralleling the quiet efficiency of Saulnier’s filmmaking.
Green Room is a distilled exercise in terror. By the time the blood starts spilling, it’s almost a relief, as the coiling tension has ravaged the viewer’s nervous system. It’s a great thriller from a director who’s only improving with each film.
9 out of 10
Green Room (2015, USA)
Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier; starring Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Macon Blair, Patrick Stewart.
This article was originally published on the now-defunct Toronto Film Scene.