Green Room is my favorite movie from 2016, and it will take quite a feat to undo it at this point. I thought every moment was incredible, from the opening shot to the very closing. I was gripped in such suspense the entire time that my palms began sweating twenty minutes in and did not cease perspiring until well into the closing credits. The legs of my jeans were wet from wiping sweat off throughout the movie. And while normally something as barbaric as being covered in sweat would, like, really irk me in a genuine fashion I actually really appreciated that the movie was able to get that much of a reaction out of me. I’ve been watching horror movies since the age of five, and it takes a lot to rile me these days. As I sat through Green Room, I had genuine emotions. That’s difficult for me on any given day, but especially during a movie. I even gasped out loud not once, not twice, but three full times at moments of violence that truly shocked and rattled me. This is a work of honest to God, genuinely grungy art and I loved every second of it. Directed by Jeremy Saulnier, who did a sort of funny horror comedy (which is maybe the worst thing you can say about a horror comedy) called Murder Party, and a really fantastic slow burn revenge thriller called Blue Ruin that took its plot of revenge and rooted it in very human characters. Saulnier does the same in Green Room for the siege film – and by extension the slasher film – giving all of his characters more than just one dimension and setting them up both concisely (the movie is just 90 minutes!) and successfully. I was hoping no one would die and that everyone would just get to go on their merry way at the end, but because you bought a ticket for Green Room you know that to be patently untrue.
The plot is utter simplicity, but couldn’t be executed more precisely. Struggling punk rock group The Ain’t Right’s – whom we meet siphoning gasoline – are booked a gig at a scuzzy Nazi dive bar that they more or less have to play to get back home. They don’t exactly ingratiate themselves, starting their set off with the Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”, and things get worse when after their set the lead vocalist stumbles upon a murder scene in the titular room. A good portion of the first movie plays out in this single room, and Saulnier mines all the tension he possibly can from the space – and situation – the characters find themselves in. In what is possibly the most fleshed out sorta-bad-guy in recent memory, Saulnier stalwart Macon Blair – the lead in both Murder Party and Blue Ruin – plays a sympathetic lucky to a murderous and vile Patrick Stewart. “We’re not keeping you. You’re just staying,” he tells the band, and you kind of get the feeling he believes what he’s saying. Throughout the film, if there’s one person you feel like may save the day, it’s this guy of all people. Much has been made of Patrick Stewart’s villainous performance here, and he is indeed very good. He’s absolutely chilling, especially in the first half of the film when his character exists mostly as a disembodied voice behind a door. Anton Yelchin is sympathetic in the lead, though I always find him to be slightly disaffected. Here I think it works very well because of the character he’s playing, but I don’t think he’s the most creative actor around. Alia Shawkat – who was in last year’s wonderful horror riff The Final Girls – makes an appearance as a member of the band, and it’s always just nice to see her in something. (Although, here I wish I hadn’t seen quite so much.) Imogen Poots, who is a brilliant English actress, gives her best performance to date as a Nazi sympathizer (seriously) who throughout the film changes her views because, well, Nazi’s killed her friend. Credit where it’s due, despite having one of the most eccentric haircuts in recent cinema she still manages to be a compelling and surprisingly stunning heroine.
Things eventually turn very violent, all the more so because you’ve gotten to know every character including the awful ones and so each gunshot, each stabbing, each dog bite has a visceral punch to it that most movies do not provide and in fact are probably too timid to provide. I don’t know that I had a fun time watching this. I was genuinely stressed out and really distraught at how intense the whole thing was at times, but I just am in absolute awe that something like Green Room could get produced and released into theaters. It seems so out of context – a beautifully photographed, really well written horror flick – and yet it works so well you leave kind of wondering why more people aren’t making moody, dark horror movies. The answer is because not many directors would nail the tone. Saulnier’s violence against the characters never comes off as nihilistic. It’s always shocking in it’s brevity. The humor from the characters never seems disingenuous, and we believe every decision they make (which are roundly pretty smart ones). I could go on and on about how impressed I was, how genuinely moved I was – because being as anxious as I was really does classify as being moved – but I won’t because I would be at risk of repeating myself and chances are you decided long before you read this if you would be seeing Green Room or not. I’d love to see it again, but there are some parts I genuinely don’t know that I could sit through knowing they would come.
* * * *
Written and Directed by Jeremy Saulnier.
Cast: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Macon Blair, Alia Shawkat, Eric Edelstein, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, David W. Thompson, and Patrick Stewart.
Rated R for strong brutal graphic violence, gory images, language, and some drug content.