Green Room, 2015.
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier.
Starring Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Macon Blair and Patrick Stewart.
After playing a show in a remote club, a punk band finds themselves under siege from a gang of Neo-Nazi skinheads after they witness a brutal murder.
Horror is a genre that thrives on presenting audiences with creative and often fantastical tales of demons, zombies, vampires and all kinds of other creatures, the terror of these ghoulish creations tempered by the knowledge that such monsters don’t actually exist. However, when the genre dips its tow outside of fantasy and opts for a more grounded realistic approach with real monsters, the horrors can be just as, if not more, terrifying than any fanged shuffling creature feature. This brings us to today’s entry, a horror-thriller that offers us a stark, violent and gritty experience that shines a light on some real monsters that lurk in the darkest corners of our society; Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room.
Those expecting an exposition-heavy story rich in detailed backstories might want to look elsewhere. Green Room is a tightly constructed lean work whose sparse plot wastes little time in getting to the point. Characters are established with enough development and backstory so that we can relate to them, understand their plight and root for them to survive. The setting is quickly set up, at which point the characters (and, by extension, the viewer) settles in for what is essentially one long gruelling siege.
Crucial to the film’s success is its titular setting, the green room in the back of a rough and rowdy bar run by Neo-Nazi skinheads, an unpleasant place at the best of times, a living nightmare at the worst. The green room, with its tight confines and increasingly fraught atmosphere, becomes almost like a prison cell. The sense of claustrophobia grabbing you in a choke hold that grows tighter and tighter with every passing minute until you can barely breathe. Yet, it’s often in the quietest moments when things are scariest, with the uncertainty about what awaits our heroes on the other side of the door keeping you biting your nails in terror.
The characters are well written and brilliantly realised. Our punk band protagonists utterly believable as their increasingly desperate attempts at escape often result in missteps and setbacks that often leave them in an even worse situation than they already were. The cast led by the late Anton Yelchin deliver terrific performances across the board, with the actors imbuing the roles with a realistic sense of naivety that endears you to them and make the inevitable deaths of some of them all the more tragic. They’re just kids who wanted to play a show. Although I do like how they decide to entertain an audience of angry Neo-Nazi’s by playing a song whose lyrics include the phrase “Nazi Punks. Fuck Off!”
Our Neo-Nazi antagonists are very much in the same mould, portrayed in a realistic fashion that makes them a fearsome and terrifying force to confront, especially given that they possess the upper hand for most of the run-time. The Neo-Nazi’s also brings us to the stand out character; Darcy Banker, their ruthless leader, played in a chilling against-type performance by Patrick Stewart. Stewart (in a rare adoption of an American accent) portrays the character as an intelligent, patient and resourceful leader, one whose presence projects authority and menace in his every scene, commanding respect, loyalty and fear among his followers.
Although, I have to give credit to actor Brent Werzner for his brief performance as Werm, a murderer whose actions set the plot in motion. Werzner, with his seemingly soulless dead eyes and eerily calm delivery, creates an utterly horrifying character who you can’t help but want to discover more about, yet dread what you might find. It’s an intense and captivating performance whose intensity and terrifying presence is made all the more impressive by the fact that the character only appears in a handful of scenes.
With arms being snapped or hacked to pieces, stomachs sliced open, brains blown out and necks chewed out by angry dogs, Green Room does not shy away from depicting brutal and gruesome acts of violence. However, the film manages to avoid indulging in any kind of gratuitousness or excess gore, often by presenting these violent acts in a gritty and realistic fashion, an approach that only adds to the uncomfortable and often cringe-inducing viciousness of the actions.
A realistic stripped-down approach, a suffocating atmosphere that leaves you gasping, and a surprisingly sinister performance from Patrick Stewart combine to create a compelling and utterly believable experience that offers a much grittier take on the horror genre that is not often taken. While some might be put off by its thin narrative and brutal bone-crunching violence, I would still highly recommend Green Room as the perfect film for those looking for something different from the usual fantastical horror fare.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★