Earlier this year I wrote a review calling Jeff Nichols’s Midnight Special one of the best films of the year. Deep into 2015 I stand by that statement while happily adding Green Room to that list. Like the sci-fi mystery Midnight Special, this movie is not for everyone. In fact the list of people who will be able to sit through Green Room won’t stretch very long given its content and graphic violence. The film follows punk band The Ain’t Rights traveling along the west coast from one lousy gig to another. Just as the tour seems to have run out of steam (after playing to a less than rowdy diner crowd of a dozen or so) they sign on for show for a crowd of Neo-Nazis in an isolated Oregon club. Things spiral out of control after the band starts their set with an unappreciated rendition of the Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” and then stumble into a backstage green room where they don’t belong. What follows is a tight and well-crafted thriller that manages to feel fresh and unpredictable despite its (appropriately) focused plot. Like Nichols, Saulnier’s delivers the plot in small portions letting the tension build as details are revealed.
Part of the film’s fresh feel comes from the unfamiliar faces on screen. And I don’t just mean the actors involved though seeing Sir Patrick Stewart play the head of a violent white supremacist group is anything but familiar. The Ain’t Rights (played by Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Callum Turner, and Joe Cole) paint an endearing and surprisingly sympathetic portrait despite their rough-around-the-edges and often standoffish ways. Early in the film one of the members explains to an interviewer why they avoid digital distribution of their music despite the publicity the recordings would garner, saying “When you take it all virtual, you lose the texture.” In a different film that quote may linger as nauseatingly hipsterish or pretentious but instead it adds to the overall sense of authenticity in the film. Unlike many contemporary horror/thriller flicks you get the sense that the characters on screen might exist in the real world. That alone makes the film all the more unsettling. Throughout the film the threat of danger surrounds the characters but none dive into cliches or tropes. There are no action heroes here and attack dogs are not to be messed with. This grim but realistic approach has become director Jeremy Saulnier’s trademark three films into what looks to be a very promising career. For those of you who can make it through the slashed body parts and attack dogs this movie should not be missed.