It’s tempting to call Green Room the punk successor to Deliverance, but that glosses over the brilliance writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s smart, ferocious, blood-soaked thriller. His previous film, Blue Ruin, was an art house family drama disguised as a B-grade revenge flick; Green Room is a B-grade exploitation thriller with art house sensibilities. It’s schlock so smartly written that it transcends — and often subverts — genre cliches.
The premise is deceptively simple: Down-and-out garage punk band The Ain’t Rights (Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, and Callum Turner) are limping their way through what could charitably be called a tour across the Pacific Northwest, surviving on instant rice and siphoned gas, when they “luck” into a gig at a sketchy club in backwoods Oregon — one owned, operated, and frequented by skinheads.
The band keeps their heads down (literally at one point, when a few beer bottles fly their way) and power through a quick set. Things go south in a bad way just as they’re about to load up and leave, when one of the group sees something he shouldn’t have — something horrendous and very, very criminal. They’re forced to hole up in the green room while about a dozen or so white supremacists lead by the club’s owner, Darcy Banker (Patrick Stewart) set about “containing” the situation.
Saulnier keeps the movie quick and to the point, yet gets a lot of mileage out that setup. It quickly becomes clear that there’s no easy way out of this stalemate for anyone, and Saulnier pumps up the dread and the tension before launching into the inevitable fight for survival. When he does, he keeps the outcome largely unpredictable and provides plenty of ups and downs. (Unlike the characters in your average slasher flick, the Ain’t Rights get a chance to be smart as often as they are clueless.) The violence is predictably and suitably shocking, but it is rarely cathartic or titillating.
Saulnier has assembled an impeccable young cast for his protagonists, which also includes Imogen Poots as a young woman caught up in the situation and Blue Ruin‘s Macon Blair as Darcy’s hesitant lieutenant Gabe; but ultimately it is Stewart who sets the tone here. His performance as a cold, clipped, and calculating majordomo is a far cry from the likes of Jean-Luc Picard and Charles Xavier. What’s really disturbing is that, in a very warped way, Darcy is just as much a father-figure to his loyal followers as Captain Picard and Professor X were to theirs. The latter never loosed a pack of dogs on his students, though, so there’s that.