Cast: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawcat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Patrick Stewart
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Writer: Jeremy Saulnier
Boy, did this film make me feel queasy. In this day and age where we have movies by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and more horror-movie directors than I can possibly count, we’ve become pretty desensitised to the portrayal of violence and blood and gore on screen. Yet this film really shocked me with its content in a way that doesn’t often happen to me anymore. Green Room is not an overtly violent film. It isn’t over-the-top in its depiction of violence and certainly never ventures into the realm of torture porn. What made it so disturbing for me, rather, was how realistically graphic it chose to be at infrequent intervals. The film dedicated much of its time towards building an irrepressible atmosphere of dread to the point that you can hardly believe what is happening. Thus the selective use of authentically gruesome violence serves to bring the viewers back down to earth and remind them that this is not a bad dream. The danger these characters find themselves in is all too real and all too distressing. As a viewer I couldn’t help but feel trapped with them.
The film follows a punk rock band who agree to play a gig at a secluded venue in the Pacific Northwest. The band members are Pat (Anton Yelchin), the bassist, Sam (Alia Shawkat), the guitarist, Reece (Joe Cole), the drummer and Tiger (Callum Turner), the singer. They discover that the venue is in fact hosting a festival for white supremacists and so decide not to stay any longer than absolutely necessary. After the gig the band members return to the back room where they witness the stabbing of a young woman. Terrified and horrified, they lock themselves in the room along with the murder victim’s friend Amber (Imogen Poots) to try and work out an escape plan. Meanwhile the leader of the neo-Nazis Darcy Banker (Patrick Stewart) intends to make sure that none of the witnesses leave the building alive.
I think the kind of tone this film is going for is that of a B-movie, which is a style choice and not a criticism. It has that sort of farfetchedness in its set up and execution coupled with a stark grittiness with no holds barred. However, through the use of its higher-value production, a well-known cast and skilled direction, Green Room offers a more intense and chilling experience than the typical B-movie. The film thrives on claustrophobia as these characters are trapped in a room with no means of escape. It is relentless in its brutality as each plan they attempt only makes their desperate situation even worse. Typically in these kinds of films you can usually tell which characters will end up making it out alright but here it is all up in the air. The film’s refusal to allow these characters any pleasure had me wondering whether any of them would even survive, let alone make it out safely. Any further elaboration on this point risks spoiling the capricious viewing experience so I’ll move on now.
Although the musicians trapped in the back room are the movie’s protagonists, Patrick Stewart is the headliner. As the ruthless leader of the vicious neo-Nazi skinheads he provides the film with an intriguing and menacing villain. Being the class act that he is, Stewart brings some dignity to the role of a cruel and powerful man trying to command a situation that is getting more and more out of his control. His screen-time is limited but Stewart commands every second in which he appears. The young musicians also deliver formidable performances as they are overcome with fear, anxiety and desperation. With only a locked metal door standing between them and a brutal death, it is all these characters can do to not give in to despair or panic. As their situation grows more hopeless with each passing second they try to use what few resources they have at their disposal to escape, only for everything to keep getting worse.
Many people are not going to like this film, that is a simple reality. Having seen it, I’m not sure if I could ever bring myself to watch it a second time. Green Room is one of the most gruelling and distressing experiences I’ve ever had in a cinema. It does such an impressive job of creating a desolate and petrifying atmosphere that watching it all the way through to the end feels like a feat of survival. It is so unflinching and convincing in its brutality that I think many viewers will find it difficult to detach themselves. With that said though, I certainly cannot say that it wasn’t thrilling or enthralling. It is a harrowing film but it was still fun to watch in a twisted and macabre way. Those who believe they might be able to endure such a film should go and see it and I wish them the best of luck.