In 2013, a film called Blue Ruin was released to critical acclaim, with particular focus highlighting the skill of Jeremy Saulnier’s direction and writing. Saulnier is becoming one of (if not the) indie genre filmmaker of the day. I didn’t know this when I sat down to watch Green Room, however – I knew Patrick Stewart and neo-Nazis and that was about it – but it speaks volumes to his skill, being a masterfully suspenseful tale that doesn’t shy away from gore or action.
A punk-band (headed by Anton Yelchin) on the road is handed a gig by an interviewer – when they reach the venue, they find a remote Oregon roadhouse that is the haven of a group of white supremacists. After their set, they come across a dead body and are forced to remain there, trapped in the green room but with a hostage, at the mercy of the neo-Nazis. The manager Darcy (Patrick Stewart) informs them he is trying to remedy the situation, but the group quickly becomes aware that their deaths are being planned – so, with the help of a tough young woman (Imogen Poots), they fight to escape and to survive.
This is a film that means business, and when it gets going, it is palpably tense until the finish. There is a brief bit of set-up to get the band to the clubhouse, which perhaps went a bit longer than I’d have liked (although it can’t have been more than ten minutes or so), but with the benefit of reflection, I see the necessity. It serves to establish our characters, making them into people rather than mere horror cannon fodder.
There is a definite shift in tone when the group meet the supremacists, and it puts the viewer on edge. Stuff really hits the fan quickly, and we swiftly begin the most bloody and gory episode of Columbo ever. If you’re a fan of the red stuff, this movie will please you – it doesn’t hold when it comes to gore, with some fantastic effects (once again proving the value of practical effects over CGI in films like this).
Of course, any Columbo needs a famous guest star villain, and Patrick Stewart is clearly enjoying playing against type as a bad guy, understatedly playing Darcy and thus making him all the scarier. Far from your typical horror slaughterfest, Green Room has a real human face as its baddie, with real motivations and a sheer callousness towards human life that makes it a lot more evil than a bogeyman with a machete.
The siege mechanic here helps ramp up the tension – moments of action and bloodshed are broken up with moments of discussion and pondering as each group thinks about what their next play is. The latter scenes help build character and develop a fear of what is to come (when Darcy summons more skinheads and a dog handler to deal with the captives, you know some bad things are going to happen), and make the carnage that ensues more chaotic. Few things up the shock at a moment of violence more than witnessing the build-up to that scene of violence.
Now, much as I enjoyed it, it is worth pointing out that this is not a film for everybody – some will find it too dour and just too unpleasant, and that’s a fair criticism. There are occasional moments of levity, but they are few and (to my mind) a touch jarring with the tone of the movie. I think, though, that this is a movie that is paced wonderfully and has the audience rooting for the leads, even as their chance of survival seems increasingly smaller. This is a horror-thriller that plays it straight, building up an incredible amount of psychological tension and holding the viewer enthralled until the end credits start to roll.
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Cast: Imogen Poots (Amber), Alia Shawkat (Sam), Patrick Stewart (Darcy Bunker), Anton Yelchin (Pat), Joe Cole (Reece), Mark Webber (Daniel)
Running Time: 94 Mins