GREEN ROOM is a claustrophobic, nihilistic, thriller about a punk rock band whose impromptu gig in a warehouse turned music venue somewhere in the middle of nowhere U.S.A turns into a blood-soaked nightmare. To call the club seedy is actually an understatement - a casual observer might mistake it for one of Jigsaw’s booby-trapped dungeons in the SAW movie series.
After getting stiffed by an amateur talent booker, the nomadic and woefully naive quartet of twentysomething punks dubbed The Ain’t Rights accept a last-minute gig following a poorly attended show during their makeshift tour across America’s Heartland. As the group takes the stage at the dreary ramshackle club where the ensuing events of the film take place, lead singer Pat (the late Anton Yelchin) rather impetuously decides to change their standard opening song to a cover of The Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Skinheads Must Die” - an extremely bold choice given that several members of the modest-sized audience are clearly representatives of the Aryan Nation. A small riot erupts leading the band to have no choice other than stop the show and run for their lives. Unfortunately the group is forced to barricade themselves in the venue’s green room and within a matter a minutes a bloodied corpse is lying on the dingy shag carpet.
The panicked club promoter inside the room that is now a crime scene convinces the band to stay until the police arrive but Pat and his doomed cohorts correctly sense that this isn’t the type of establishment where any law enforcement would be called to. The person who is called to the scene is the diminutive but menacing club owner Darcy (the always great Patrick Stewart who is more Magneto here than Professor X.) Given that Darcy is literally skinheaded himself is another ginormous clue that something, well, ain’t right.
What follows is a tense game of cat-and-mouse in which the mice are already trapped but must use their collective wits in order to escape an extremely relentless predator lest the band gets turned into a solo act. The at times unbearably suspenseful action veers extremely close to that of a horror movie as bloody mayhem culminates in a final stand against seemingly invincible killer.
In what sadly turned out to be one of his final roles, Yelchin stands out (as he often did) as the dimwitted but courageous pack leader forced to make some extremely difficult split-second decisions as the band fights for survival. Stewart does a 180 as his typically heroic and noble onscreen persona is nowhere to be found in the despicable and soulless Darcy who regards the dead bodies left in his wake as a mere annoyance. For him it’s just another day staying off the grid and maintaining order in a subculture that thrives on chaos and anarchy.
On one hand director Jeremy Saulnier’s follow up to his terrific 2013 debut BLUE RUIN is an unqualified success as the film’s grimy mise en scene nearly oozes off the screen and the filmmaker keeps the tension building scene after scene. Despite GREEN ROOM’s varied strengths, however, I can’t really say that I enjoyed it. Everything that occurs onscreen is so relentlessly unpleasant that I wanted to get out of the theater as much as the band wanted to escape the hell hole they’re trapped in. I look forward to Saulnier’s next film (a remake of PURPLE RAIN perhaps if the color theme continues? I keed, I keed) with great anticipation but his sophomore effort plays more like a cover song rather than the classic tune it aspires to be.