“Green Room” is a nasty piece of work which sticks the knife into the viewer and sticks it real deep. Like “Assault on Precinct 13” (the original, not the remake), it is a siege movie but not the one you are necessarily used to seeing. The characters are really fleshed out to where the actors are inhabiting them more than acting, and the violence is not the usual PG-13 bloodless action. For those of you who like your movies seriously intense, ultra-violent and filled with characters who look and feel real, “Green Room” is one you want to check out. For those who do not care for violent movies in the slightest, you would do your best to avoid this one. If you thought “Harry Brown” was dark and bleak, wait till you get a load of this.
The movie opens on The Ain’t Rights, a punk band about to complete their long and largely unsuccessful tour, and their last show has them going to a rural place outside of Portland, Oregon. But upon arriving there, they discover it is a neo-Nazi skinhead bar located deep in the woods, far from the prying eyes of the police among others. Their show goes fine even though things get off to a rough start as they do a cover of Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” which has some audience members hurling beer bottles at them, but they still manage to get off the stage in one piece. But then they stumble upon a crime never meant for their eyes, and they soon find themselves trapped in the bar and at the mercy of the skinheads who, desperate to cover up their extra-curricular activities, have no plans to let them leave while they are still breathing.
There’s something endlessly fascinating about human beings being driven to the limit of survival. We start having what seems like an ordinary day which we often sleepwalk through, and then something happens which threatens our livelihood and activates our survival instincts to where they cannot be turned off. These punk band members are trapped in a horrific situation not of their own making, and they will soon find themselves acting in their most primal state as death constantly looms around the corner.
What surprised me most about “Green Room” was how real and complex all the characters were. These are not just a bunch of character types simply designed to infuriate moviegoers or immediately gain their sympathy. They all feel like real people caught up in a situation we hope never to be in, and they cannot escape the possibility of a grisly fate. Heck, even a simple negotiation between one character and another takes on a more sinister edge here as the intensity is ratcheted up to a level to where this movie feels like a blood relative of Sam Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs.”
Plus, you cannot help but be deeply affected by the violence displayed here. Not once is it ever glorified as it is presented in an ugly and visceral form you will react very strongly to. One character gets their arm slashed in a way that reminded me of Naomi Watts’ gaping leg wound from “The Impossible,” and I could not help but gasp in response. Regardless of how many ultra-violent movies you have seen, you cannot leave “Green Room” feeling unaffected by what you have witnessed.
“Green Room” was written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier whose previous film, “Blue Ruin,” received a lot of critical acclaim. I have not seen that one yet, but you can sure bet I will be checking it out soon. He takes what is essentially a genre picture and upgrades it to one that feels far more potent than most. He also gives the punk band which occupies it an authentic feel as nothing they do onstage ever comes across as generic. Clearly this director has been around bands like these for a good portion of his life, and he knows how they operate as they work hard to keep their music from being easily corrupted.
Saulnier also benefits greatly from having a top notch cast which grounds their characters in a reality that feels all too real. Chief among them is Anton Yelchin who plays Pat and who is forced to get to his most primal state in a way he never expected to when he got up in the morning. Also effective is Alia Shawkat as Sam, the band’s sole female member who manages to control her fear enough to keep one step ahead of the skinheads looking to eliminate those in their path. Joe Cole and Callum Turner give memorable turns as the other band members Reece and Tiger, and Macon Blair leaves a strong impression as Gabe, a skinhead who actually grows a conscience in the midst of all the chaos.
One real stand out performance in “Green Room” comes from Imogen Poots who plays Amber. When we first meet Amber, she comes across as a helpless victim who is in over her head and becomes trapped with the rest of the band. But quickly, she becomes a very enigmatic character capable of violence the others are not. We only learn so much about Amber throughout, but Poots imbues her with what seems like a dark history filled with violence that she has somehow managed to survive in spite of her circumstances. Amber knows what’s at stake, and she’s willing to do anything she can to stay alive, anything.
But, of course, the biggest star in “Green Room” is Sir Patrick Stewart who plays a man who is the polar opposite of Jean-Luc Picard or Professor Charles Xavier. Stewart portrays Darcy Banker, the leader of this skinhead gang. What’s especially chilling about Stewart’s performance is how he makes Darcy into an ordinary guy capable of such insidious evil. Not once does he try to chew the scenery or turn Darcy into your typical skinhead villain drunk with power and hatred, but someone who has dealt with unfortunate situations like this before and has long since handled them in a calm fashion. Stewart never has to overplay the part as he conveys just how comfortable Darcy is in his belief structure and psychosis to where taking a human life is not all that different from swatting a fly.
“Green Room” is not high on originality and features situations we have seen in countless movies before, but arguing about this is a waste of time. It’s a heavy duty thriller that takes no prisoners and is unafraid in dragging us into an ultra-violent realm of society we would never want to see in person. If you like your movies claustrophobic and filled with an intensity which really jacks up your adrenaline, this one is for you. For those who do not like these kind of movies, don’t bother. Some movies are meant to be infinitely disturbing and effectively so, and this is one of them.
Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.
* * * ½ out of * * * *