Most of the hype around Green Room was centered on the stunt casting of the respected Patrick Stewart as a Neo-Nazi meth producer. It’s the sort of hype that gets people in the door, but is a false flag about what the film is really about.
This is probably the best chamber thriller since Straw Dogs. Like Sam Peckinpah’s controversial masterpiece, Green Room is about people who want to ignore the modern world but realize that they’re rebelling against is what’s keeping them from the darkest sides of humanity. And director Jeremy Saulnier has Peckinpah’s eye for violence. Green Room is uncompromising in its handling of the material, but any attempts to tell the story another way would have ruined the themes.
The set up, like all great thrillers, could be written on a cocktail napkin. Punk band The Ain’t Rights are surviving their “tour” by playing at tiny restaurants and siphoning gas so they can drive to their next gig. They’re booked to play at a club in a backwoods area, where they witness a murder in the green room. What follows are attempts for the club owner Darcy Banker (Stewart) to silence them while they fight for survival against Banker’s group of white supremacists.
It’s difficult to explain why the film works as well as it does. In the hands of another director, Green Room could have been very easily told and probably still hit a bunch of emotional beats. But Green Room feels like a documentary, which makes the horror more difficult to endure.
I mention the fact that the villains of this piece are Neo-Nazis, but it’s almost irrelevant to the plot. The fact is barely mentioned outside of a brief statement by Banker, some graffiti on the walls, and the fact that The Ain’t Rights are almost booed off the stage after playing a cover of “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” It would have been very easy to turn this into an indictment of right-wing extremism, especially in our current climate.
But Saulnier wants Green Room to be remembered for a long time. Tying it to anything in the present would destroy the film. And the thrills are timeless. Part of the point is that all the characters, including the people trying to kill The Ain’t Rights, are in over their heads. The villains are not sadistic. To them, it’s all an unfortunate side effect of business. As for the The Ain’t Rights, they try their best to survive while “selling out” their punk ethos.
Green Room does not feature any A-list stars, which would have distracted from the visceral reality that the film presents. Pausing to watch, say, Channing Tatum in a punk band would have been far too recognizable. I never believed that I was watching anything other than what the film presented.
I’ve mentioned Straw Dogs in this critique already, but I do think that’s the only film Green Room could be compared to. The film is hideously violent, with scenes of dog attacks, graphic knife wounds, and one memorable moment in which a man is cut open with a box cutter. Straw Dogs was about a man who wanted to escape from the college protests and turmoil in America, only to find himself caught in the middle of it. It’s the same situation The Ain’t Rights find themselves in. They’re petty thieves who find themselves begging for the police when the witness a crime and then find themselves fighting against the sort of counterculture they wanted to be a part of.
The main plot is quite complex. The murder is not a random killing, but part of some sort of rebellion in the Neo-Nazi clan. I cannot describe it accurately or claim it is easy to follow the plot. Normally this would kill a film, but the plot doesn’t really matter in Green Room. It feels more like a real hostage situation. You hear things whispered, but that’s far from the biggest thing you’re focused on. Green Room provides such a fantastic emotional experience that I didn’t realize its narrative difficulties.
While most releases are becoming more conservative to attract the widest audience possible, Green Room holds nothing back. It is the sort of meditation on violence and survival that Sam Peckinpah would approve. Even if some people are turned off by the content, it’s refreshing to see a director refuse to make compromises. Green Room does exactly what Saulnier wants it to do.