A film review by Craig J. Koban May 21, 2016

RANK:  #10


2016, R, 94 mins.


Anton Yelchin as Pat  /  Imogen Poots as Amber  /  Patrick Stewart as Darcy  / Alia Shawkat as Sam  /  Mark Webber as Daniel  /  Joe Cole as Reece  /  Macon Blair as Gabe

Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier

I’ve developed an awfully thick skin over my last 12 years as a film critic, so much so that most subject matter and /or content rarely unnerves me to the point where I have to nervously watch a film through my fingers.  

Jeremy Saulnier’s GREEN ROOM is a different beast altogether.  I watched a majority of it through my fingertips, and it takes a special unflinchingly raw and unnervingly violent film to elicit such a response from me.  I didn’t enjoy watching it, per se, but as a primal exercise in nail biting tension and dread, this invasion horror thriller is quite masterfully conceived and impeccably executed.   

Jeremy Saulnier has made two previous films, the most recent being his critically lauded 2014 revenge thriller BLUE RUIN.  GREEN ROOM seems like a natural progression for the inordinately talented filmmaker, seeing as it’s genre effort that’s so cruelly efficient that it will take a very long time for it to exit viewers’ systems.  On one level, it offers up delightfully macabre B-grade levels of grindhouse action as a thriller, not too unlike classic John Carpenter-ian films of yesteryear (ASSAULT ON PRESCIENT 13 comes immediately to mind), not to mention that its invasion elements and sensation of characters feeling horrendously trapped while battling hordes of enemies echoes NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (with neo-Nazis substituted in for zombies).  Sprinkle in some obvious overtones of STRAW DOGS and the more subtle ones of DELIVERANCE and what we’re left with in GREEN ROOM is a wickedly inventive mishmash of ageless horror thriller staples that somehow never feels stale or clichéd.  This, of course, is mostly to do with the fact that Saulnier is clearly working on a whole other upper echelon apart from his contemporaries.   



The storyline here is deceptively simply in terms of setup.  We quickly meet a struggling group of punk rockers in a band called The Ain’t Rights that are aimlessly touring from one low-rent gig to the next in search of a big proverbial payday to keep their music afloat.  Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole) and Tiger (Callum Turner) have hit career and financial rock bottom of the lowest variety (we first see them unconscious in their van that apparently ran itself off of the road when one of them passed out behind the wheel while in an inebriated state).  They’re so dirt poor that they can barely afford food and are forced to siphon gas from parked cars they come across.  In short, The Ain’t Rights just may be the least glamorous band in movie history.  Last I checked, most successful groups don’t nearly come to physical blows when it comes to deciding which member gets the last package of ramen noodles.  

Beyond desperate for some sort of lucrative gig, the group decides to take the advice of a punk rock journalist and accept one at a white supremacist compound in rural Oregon.  It’s not exactly what the group wanted, but it pays relatively well; all they have to do is show up and play.  When they arrive at the compound – literally in the deepest recesses of nowhere – they fully begin to realize what a potentially hostile skinhead-laced environment they’re in, but at the height of their youthful stupidity the band decides to kick off their show with a cover of the Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.”  Obviously, the ravenous crowd doesn’t take kindly to the set.  They manage to finish their gig without being beaten alive by the skinhead masses, and afterwards they go to collect their $300 so they can abruptly leave.  Pat goes back to the green room to fetch a member’s smart phone that was left behind, but when he arrives he accidentally stumbles upon a rather grisly murder scene.  The club’s goons swoop in to secure the frightened band and force them against their wills to stay until the owner Darcy Banker (a magnificently against type Patrick Stewart) arrives.  He inevitably decides that they have to be “eliminated” as to not squeal to the cops.  Predictably, all hell breaks loose. 

On thing that GREEN ROOM does with such a calculating Hitchcockian precision is create an immediate sense of hopeless claustrophobia and a daunting fear of survival within the room itself.  The band eventually manages to steal a gun away from one of the club’s rather large enforcers, locks the door and secures the room, only to then face a whole new set of moral and physical challenges when Banker inevitably unleashes his minions upon them.  Compounding an already dire set of circumstances is the fact that the murder victim’s friend (Imogen Poots) is also in the room and wants swift and brutal vengeance.  When Banker’s verbal negations with the band (initially – and falsely – promising their safety) collapses, the film then segues into high gear and into a series of heart-stopping and monumentally distressing cat and mouse action sequences, during which time Pat (assuming a leadership role) and his squad use their wits (and whatever makeshift weapons they have at their disposal) to find some way of escaping.  Chillingly, Banker doesn’t make it easy, as he sends in men with shotguns, knives, machetes, and even vicious attack dogs that immediately gorge of jugulars at the drop of simple verbal command. 

GREEN ROOM refreshingly absconds away from overused genre conventions and formulaic narrative beats, even though its premise, on paper, has literally been done to death.  There are no tangible and black and white “heroes” and “villains” here; granted, Banker and his skinhead posse are beyond pure evil.  The youth that make up The Ain’t Rights are not squeaky-clean protagonists, though, and are a fairly un-heroic motley cruel of drug addicted, law breaking, and anti-conformity hoodlums.  They’re also pretty dim-witted early on, never fully understanding how playing a rigorously anti-Nazi song would alienate them from an already malicious flock that’s watching them on stage.  Even the film’s presentation of its chief antagonist is richly atypical and rather inspired.  Stewart’s Banker is a truly frightening human being.  No question.  However, he doesn’t go in for the slaughter right from the get-go, and rather calm-spokenly tries to negotiate the band’s surrender to him (as hollow as these negotiations eventually turn out).  Yet, what makes Banker such a terrifying movie villain is his perpetually calm demeanor.  He orders the execution of the band as casually as he would place an order at a fast food restaurant.  It’s clear that he’s ordered countless murders before…and he’s good at covering his tracks.  Stewart meticulously plays his baddie with maximum stillness and unflappable poise and never reduces the part down to woeful, camera mugging theatricality; he’s hauntingly effectual here. 

The feral ferocity that GREEN ROOM achieves is pretty matchless.  The sheer barbarism becomes very difficult to sit through as the story progresses from one inhuman extreme to the next…but I think that’s the point.  Saulnier doesn’t shamelessly cheapen his film with artery spewing, bone crunching violence.  The animalistic bloodshed in GREEN ROOM rarely feels unsophisticatedly sensationalistic as a piece of vile torture porn.  The film almost becomes more of a commentary on cruel human nature and a meta examination on movie gore itself.  When the so-called “heroes” start killing off their bloodthirsty attackers, it rarely feels truly uplifting or exhilarating.  They don’t want to kill and are essentially forced to reluctantly do so in order to stay alive.  And their own murderous acts fundamentally change them in the process.  By the time GREEN ROOM careens towards its disquieting climax you gain an unsettling sense that these survivors have become as savagely cruel as their pursuers out of necessity.  GREEN ROOM possesses an uncommon intelligence regarding its characters and subject matter that most other similar genre films lack altogether.  

I’m not sure that I’ll ever want to watch GREEN ROOM again…at least for a while.  Yet, that’s not to its detriment.  It’s a blunt forced, teeth clenched, white knuckled, and anxiety inducing nightmare of a film ostensibly designed to make us squirm and feel queasily uncomfortable.  As mentioned, the film has exploitation film trappings, but Saulnier rises well above them with his exquisitely confident handling of the inherent material.  I felt the need to immediately go home and shower after watching GREEN ROOM, and that’s, oddly enough, an esteemed compliment; the film coats viewers with torment in ways that few other films do. 

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