Early on in Green Room, our heroes – if one can clearly identify them as such – are asked to name their “desert island band.” They name a few choices that almost seem cliched for a band that just stated going digital tarnishes the impact of music, like Misfits or much more obscure bands that the average non-punk enthusiast wouldn’t recognize at all. This seemingly innocuous question becomes the first thread of the image that the various characters of Green Room put out for themselves. Whether they be a punk band trying to keep a raw purposeful energy alive on stage or skinheads attempting to give the illusion of control over their disturbing actions, the characters of Green Room are often veiled under a veneer for the sake of self assurance and survival.
That front is central to keeping the tension palpable in Green Room. Every move this relatively smart punk band makes in order to survive isn’t perfect. They put their trust in people who aren’t capable or make moves that merely seem right in the moment rather than ultimately a good move from an onlooker’s perspective. Yet, director/writer Jeremy Saulnier‘s subtle ability to capture each individual move of these characters removes any “Well, I would have done ____” style thinking that often bogs down lesser thrillers of this type. Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole and Callum Turner show off an effectively layered portrayal of these band mates, allowing us to feel for these scavengers out of a very primal sense of human empathy. The addition of Imogen Poots as a mysterious stranger sucked into this situation only increases the paranoia and worry as the band wonders if they can trust her, managing to develop her through the intense tight action she and the band work through here.
The same can be said of the skinheads, lead by an incredibly intimidating Patrick Stewart. This is the kind of role that plays to the thespian’s strengths while casting him against type for those more familiar with Professor X or Captain Picard, though either characters’ distinctive Britishness can still be heard in his slipping accent. Still, the character and his followers share a similar desire to keep up an image for the sake of self-assurance. They’re not a “party”, they’re a “movement.” They’re trying to keep the artifice of themselves as an uprising unit alive for the sake of a sick idea of honor, even if that includes removing any evidence via killing others and not allowing people to leave his disturbed family. Like the brutal attack dogs they use to keep the band in line, Stewart and his clan will use any brute force necessary to keep their way of life, which is showcased with grounded disturbing detail.
That conflicting sense of artifice between the skinheads and the band is what keeps the energy alive during the slower moments of Green Room, with the sudden violent outbursts hitting hard every time. Like a good punk song, each horrific moment comes with swift direct action before ending just as abruptly as it entered, leaving the audience to deal with the after effects. Only, instead of the lingering damage being the ringing in one’s eardrum, it’s the mutilation of others that’s graphic and real in an unsettling fashion. Films like Green Room don’t come often enough to mainstream theaters, showing people what true horror is. It’s not a jump scare, it’s not a sudden amount of noise after absolute silence, it’s a situation firmly established and delivered with unrelenting terror around believable characters one can either empathize with or at least understand. Let’s hope we get more of the latter and less of the two formers.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Chambers in the Gun