Admit it: any advance hype for writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room had you at “neo-Nazi Patrick Stewart.” As one who loves to hate Laurence Olivier’s creepy Nazi dentist in Marathon Man, who laughs hysterically at (but still hates) Gregory Peck’s ham-tastic Dr. Mengele in The Boys From Brazil, I could not wait for White-Power Picard. Throw a hapless punk band trapped in a backstage face-off in the mix and I just knew we had a surefire winner in Saulnier’s new thriller.
“Thriller” is an important keyword here, since Green Room seems to have been consistently marketed to horror audiences. Gore aside, the film is decidedly more of an action-suspense offering than a slasher-type outing. Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (cutie-pie Joe Cole) and Tiger (Callum Turner, appropriately–if a bit obviously–rockin’ kelly-green hair), collectively known as crust-punk quartet the Ain’t Rights, pick up a last-minute gig on the tail end of their tour at a predictably ominous white-power club. When Pat accidentally witnesses an act of grievous violence in the club’s titular location, the entire band finds itself sequestered backstage, fighting to get out alive amid shifting alliances, and against formidable odds (and powerful adversaries).
Saulnier’s film makes a valiant effort to capture the paranoid, claustrophobic feel of such “man-in-a-box” classics as Assault On Precinct 13 and Wait Until Dark (briefly: am I really the only one out there who loves Panic Room?), but a little too much time in the film’s first half-hour is spent on the setup; it almost seems as though the intention in the beginning is to illustrate just how punk-rawk/super-crusty/DIY the band is supposed to be (do we really need to see them siphoning gas to get to the next gig to establish this when Shawkat’s hair says it all?), a fact sufficiently driven home by the rousing cover of Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” the band kicks off with in honor of its hosts. True, subculture sets up the circumstances for the band playing a racist club, but it ultimately has little bearing on whether or not these kids can whoop some Nazi ass to survive, and should be treated as more of an aside (and much of it was lost on the crowd anyway; the ladies behind me were especially confused by Imogen Poots’ hair, but more on that later). The deliberate pacing of the film’s first thirty minutes personally left me feeling a bit ill-prepared for the breakneck speed of its remainder; characters and situations are subsequently introduced by rapid fire, then just as quickly dispensed with, to the point where one could easily blink and miss their exit. I’m all for the fast-paced single-location action adventure, but I also like to be able to keep up with the body count.
Speaking of which, allow me a moment to shout out the excellent gore factor, which is most assuredly the reason this film is aimed at horror fans. On the sudden, shockingly-gross violence tip, Green Room wins hands down. These jarring, effective moments occur at the drop of a hat, underscored by some truly original, realistically bloody makeup effects, prompting repeated screams and outbursts from my fellow attendees. It’s definitely some of the most creative carnage I’ve seen in a minute, and significantly ups the film’s entertainment factor as far as I’m concerned.
Solid casting also saves the film from the disorganized chaos of its second half. As I’d hoped, Stewart’s understated turn as Head-Nazi-In-Charge Darcy is effectively menacing at first, but sadly somehow fizzles towards the end, awash in a sea of dead/dying skinheads, flesh-eating dogs, flying fire extinguishers and whoa-wait-what-just-happened-isms. By the film’s end, what should have been a tour-de-force portrayal languishes in afterthought (a waste of a great actor and a perfectly good chrome dome). For their parts, Yelchin, Shawkat, Cole and Turner pull off fun, credible performances in spite of the script’s punk-rock contrivances. Blue Ruin’s Macon Blair is always a pleasure to watch, making a memorable appearance here as the club’s duplicitous bouncer. The lovely-but-unfortunately-named Imogen Poots delivers as a scrappy skin-chick-turned-ally of the band (the embodiment of what we learned from Fairuza Balk in American History X: that only a beautiful face can work that Chelsea hair).
For all its flaws, I would certainly watch Green Room a second time; sure, to catch up on what I missed, but also because I feel like it still gets its overall point across. It’s wild, it’s violent, it’s tense, a purely sensationalist ride of a film. And because, well, neo-Nazi Patrick Stewart (hey, I still dig the concept in spite of the execution).