Grungy, gruesome, and way more fun than it probably should be, Green Room joins the ranks of culty arthouse thrillers like Funny Games, The Mist, and Drive that flagrantly glide back and forth over the line between high- and low-brow entertainment. But while most films of this type ultimately fall into one of those categories or the other, Green Room keeps the audience on their toes, never showing its hand and continuing to offer up surprises and thrills right until its final moments.
The film’s plot is both simple and bizarre. It follows a young punk band called The Ain’t Rights, who, after getting shortchanged out of a gig while on tour, somehow wind up being given a compensatory show playing to an aggressive crowd of Nazi skinheads in rural Oregon. After their set, things take a heated turn with the venue staff backstage, and the band’s goal then becomes simply to make it out alive.
Our protagonist is Pat (Anton Yelchin), the band’s quiet bass player, who is joined by guitarist Sam (Alia Shawkat), drummer Reece (Joe Cole) and lead singer Tiger (Callum Turner). Back in the eponymous green room of horrors, the band also meets Amber (Imogen Poots), whose allegiances are murky, but who becomes an ally by necessity. Though we don’t get much in the way of backstory or character development, our main group of “good guys” feel wholly believable, unveiling more about themselves in the ways they respond to the insane situation unfolding around them. One particularly effective example was how Cole’s quietly sturdy presence is laced with an undercurrent of rage from the start, making it feel natural how Reece boils over once stuff starts hitting the fan.
And hit the fan it certainly does. The film’s primary focus is thrills, which are in no short supply. And it’s pretty much a perfectly paced film, holding back on its violence through much of the film to make it even more impactful when it does eventually erupt. But director Jeremy Saulnier is also clearly interested in creating more than just an action-packed thriller. He sticks to his signature aesthetic and careful camerawork throughout, from the misty, pastoral opening moments right through to Green Room’s most horrifying scenes, including one involving some, er…creative…use of a box cutter.
On that note, one could probably spend a long time debating whether or not Green Room qualifies as a horror film, which it’s often been billed as. At most, it probably falls into the category of “survival horror” — films that aren’t necessarily “scary” in the traditional sense, but whose “horror” stems from the seemingly insurmountable situations the characters face (usually in some sort of isolated environment). And indeed, Green Room probably won’t seem groundbreaking unless you haven’t already seen some of the staples of this subgenre (Night of the Living Dead, 28 Days Later, the aforementioned Funny Games, etc, etc.) But Saulnier’s riff is so self-assured and gripping that it doesn’t really matter. Whether you’re enjoying the artistry, the bonkers plot, or both, Green Room is a completely compelling 90-minute ride.