Green Room is one of the wildest horror films to come out of America in some time”

by Steve Pulaski

Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room is an atmospheric pressure cooker of a film; a tense, unsettling work from a young director with a careful hand for suspense and an even careful one when it comes to sneaking in quiets meditations about the film’s characters in the screenplay.

Green Room predicates itself upon fear starting with its very environment; a grimy, unclean neo-Nazi bar, littered with white supremacist graffiti and paraphernalia and dingily lit by flickering bulbs that show little else besides filth and cigarette smoke. The venue is actually where a low-level punk-band, made up of lead-singer Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole), and Tiger (Callum Turner), who perform a set at the bar one night.

After the show, the group winds up paying one last visit to the green room where they discover two people standing over a dead woman with a knife piercing her skull. The band is ushered to stay in the room with Amber (Imogen Poots), another woman fearing for her life, and the bodyguard Big Justin (Eric Edelstein). The bar’s many goons consult with the owner Darcy (Patrick Stewart), who demands that all four members of the band be killed, for they’re all witnesses.

Green Room
Written & Directed by
Jeremy Saulnier
Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat
Release Date
6 May 2016
Steve’s Grade: A-

The band instead winds up locking themselves in the green room, holding Big Justin hostage, and demanding an explanation. The bar, however, quickly turns into a slaughterhouse, with Darcy’s henchmen looking to overpower the individuals with high-caliber weapons and shotguns while the band serves as sitting ducks inside the room, armed with makeshift weaponry such as fluorescent bulbs, a box-cutter, and barstools.

The ugliness of Green Room reaps into the theater like the odor of a musty attic and that’s just the way it should be. Saulnier and cinematographer Sean Porter create a deplorable atmosphere of racism, disgusting violence, and unrelenting horror as we watch a punk-band try to outlast the worst night of their lives. Occasionally, however, Saulnier slows his roll and let’s the characters get a chance to share insights (if you put all their own moments of dialog together, you’d probably get something resembling a full conversation).

For example, Pat shares how this experience parallels a paintball game he once took part in for a friend’s bachelor party. The other band members engage in a kind of strategic planning whilst trapped in the green room in addition to trapping Big Justin in a chokehold. Their points and ideas go deeper than mindless yelling and screaming. Finally, Amber, who remains an enigma throughout the entire film, tries her best to keep a level-head because she knows more about the actions of these men than any of the bandmembers do. How much more we never fully realize.

Furthermore, Patrick Stewart’s performance is so strong because it’s so minimalist, yet so haunting and rooted in deep-seated fear that you can’t look away when ever he gets a chance to speak. Stewart does so little other than to command his men to either withhold or engage in violence with the bandmembers, and the fact he can be so unsettling shows that he morphs himself into a presence here. He’s a snarling, guttural-voiced goon himself and the character surprisingly suits him, his overgrown five-o’clock shadow, and his leather jacket.

Green Room is one of the wildest horror films to come out of America in some time, let alone make it near a wide release at this time; in my theater, three people left when the first altercation turned bloody for one of the bandmembers. I’d go as far as to say it captivated me the same way the two Wolf Creek films did, in that they were brutally violent and gory but had an undeniable elegance and craft in the way both films were stylized. Green Room is a vicious slaughterhouse of a film with the soundtrack of hell playing in the background, but its beauty as a film lies within the quiet, more meditative angle it occasionally offers with its characters and its performances.