An end-of-its-rope, down-on-its-luck metal band, struggling to feed itself, is willing to go almost anywhere to fill an open slot. When a connection lines up what just might be a final gig for this apathetic crew, they’re not even particularly fazed that it’s in a remote location and for an audience of Neo-Nazi skinheads. After initially riling up the locals with their song selection, the band – comprised of Pat (Anton Yelchin), Tiger (Callum Turner), Reece (Joe Cole) and Sam (Alia Shawkat) – make it through their set alive.
Then Sam, returning for a charged-up mobile phone, sees something she shouldn’t in the shape of a corpse with a knife embedded in its head and a witness, Amber (Imogen Poots), close at hand. A flurry of activity follows. In the skirmish, the band locks themselves in the room of the title and attempt to negotiate out of what seems like a very snug cul-de-sac without being slaughtered. Emerging from the night to take charge of proceedings is skinhead leader and owner of the facility, Darcy, played with relish and against type by Patrick Stewart.
Things then slow down for a period, with the band heavily outnumbered and limited escape options available to them. Frantic debate about whether to adopt an advance or retreat philosophy follows, with only the leverage of a gun that fell into their hands in the initial blur of activity at their disposal. Can they find another exit? Will the Nazi’s listen to reason and allow them safe passage away from the club?
There’s little in the way of deep characterisation to be found in Green Room. This represents a deliberate choice for writer/director Jeremy Saulnier’s whose intentions are very different here to those in his last film, the utterly riveting Blue Ruin (2013). Yet all the band members register enough so that we don’t completely detach ourselves from any sort of empathetic response when the stakes are raised to extremes by the bloodthirsty locals.
The motivations of the Nazi majority do seem overly complicated; at times they become their own worst enemies in adhering to Darcy’s method of extraction without necessarily taking lives. Consequently, aspects of the narrative feel dragged out, but Saulnier is able to increasingly amplify quiet moments with heart-pounding anticipation as the dingy, shadow-layered confines of the club and surrounding corridors close in like a claustrophobic vice on the survivors.
Many of Green Room’s best moments come in the form of expertly staged visceral outbursts that punctuate the tension derived from what is a limited but cleverly conceived Assault on Precinct 13-like B-grade horror scenario. Saulnier’s craft far exceeds low genre craftsmanship however, working within his means to produce a very fine film of its type. It never devolves into a senseless bloodbath though you may still feel like a cleansing shower at the end of it all. It’s also never clear who’ll survive exactly, if anyone – always a good thing.
Stewart is seemingly having a ball in his embodiment of the emotionless husk that is Darcy, whilst Macon Blair, star of Blue Ruin, provides an understated dignity as the quietly assertive Gabe. In essence, he represents the lone flickering flame of humanity amongst the skinheads. For Saulnier, this is not a creative great leap forward but neither is it a step back; indeed, cult status is possible for this sinister, darkly hued drama that offers no apologies in delivering a series of very neatly placed gut-punches.