Trigger warning: Green Room is an incredibly violent film. It’s a good film, but it’s got scenes of intense violence, blood, gunshots, maiming, dog mauling, and a building full of skinheads. If any of these things bother you beyond your tolerance levels, be aware.
Green Room may very well be remembered as this generation’s Reservoir Dogs, as both films are conceptually about what happens when everything that can go wrong, does. Jeremy Saulnier‘s low-budget horror-thriller follows a really bad night for four young adults in a punk-rock band (Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, and Callum Turner) who are just looking to play music and score money for it. Low on gas and cash, they’re told of an easy gig at a skinhead bar where they can play a few sets and get paid good money. Things go terribly wrong when lead member Pat (Yelchin) accidentally walks in on a murder, and the bar’s owners forcibly detain them at gunpoint. Trapped in the film’s titular room, the quartet manages to overpower the club’s bouncer and confiscate his gun. They now have firepower, but the club’s owner, Darcy (Patrick Stewart), suspiciously wants them to come out without bringing in the police. Panicked, the group have to decide what Darcy wants and how they’re going to get out.
In a nutshell, Green Room explores the nightmare scenario of how we deal with things when everything goes wrong without warning. Saulnier engages in low-key foreshadowing of this concept when, prior to the concert, the band gets into a series of unexpected misfortunes: falling asleep at the wheel and landing in a cornfield; running out of gas; having a performance go bust. These things happen in life, but they don’t have the horror aspect to them; you’re just inconvenienced and you deal with it. Saulnier’s twist on this comes in the Mexican standoff scene which occupies much of the story. In the green room, the band is empowered, but trapped. Outside, they know that Darcy’s forces are more-than-likely going to overpower and kill them, and indeed, their first attempt to leave the room goes very badly. At that point, the film’s question is how one can minimize the awfulness of what is clearly going to be a very, very bad day.
Saulnier’s direction results in a wonderful example of how effective a low-budget film in a limited setting can be. Other than some urban shots in Oregon, the bulk of the movie takes place in the woods and Darcy’s ramshackle plywood-and-plaster backwoods bar. It maximizes the dangerous nature of the story as the bar is littered with skinhead graffiti and posters, and the punk rock music playing in the background simultaneously serves as both an actual part of the story and a cue to the audience of how bad things are getting.
The film’s stars play their parts well, with Yelchin taking the lead of a band of young adults who are in well over their heads. Yelchin has matured plenty since his breakout as the baby-faced Chekov in 2009’s Star Trek reboot, though in Green Room, he finds the perfect balance between a person too young to be in this situation and just old enough to plan his way out. Playing well with Yelchin is Imogen Poots as Amber, a young woman who fell into the skinhead group and is forced by necessity to join Yelchin’s group. Whereas Yelchin’s Pat is aware of how much trouble the group is in, Poots’ Amber knows it and is vital to helping the band think on their feet.
Shawkat, Cole, and Turner also convincingly play the other band members and, at least prior to the murder, work well off each other as a likeable but world-weary group of adults. The real shame of everyone’s performance is that not all the characters survive to the end–we get attached to them just enough to miss them when they go.
Attention should also be played to the film’s villains, with emphasis on Patrick Stewart’s Darcy. It’s a different kind of role for Stewart, who we tend to know for his bigger parts in the Star Trek and X-Men franchises. Here, he’s a cold villain, albeit one who’s not particularly grandiose. (The skinhead bar hides a secret, though not one that’s particularly shocking when we learn it.) If you’re expecting his role to be grander–matching the level of the actor–you won’t get it: in the end, Darcy is nothing more than a thug. Still, Stewart plays the part well, avoiding the temptation to ham up the part and instead play him straight.
Also worth observing is Macon Blair as Gabe, Darcy’s lead henchman who essentially plays the band members’ opposite on the skinheads’ side. Gabe is unquestionably a villain, eager to please Darcy and carry out his orders. Unlike the other goons, however, Gabe is still a bit wide-eyed and, like the kids, he’s aware that he’s in over his head. He’s one of only two characters on the villains’ side who displays some level of humanity, keeping them from becoming complete caricatures.
Indeed, Green Room acknowledges that bad days are bad because they take us outside of our comfort zone and into the terror of the unknown. The film simply magnifies that discomfort to an insane level, and by the film’s end, the survivors just want to get out of the madness and back to the normalcy of their lives. There’s a particular moment at the film’s end in which the gruesome collapses back into ordinary. It’s a touching point which reminds us that as bad as things get, they’re not the natural state of things, and that if you survive the worst of horrors, then maybe you can get back on with your life.
Green Room opens in wide release on April 29, 2016.