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Review: Green Room (2016)

Green Room (2016)

Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier

Premise: A punk rock band plays a show at a white supremacist compound. When the band members witness a murder, they barricade themselves in a back room and fight for survival.  

What Works: Green Room is a tense and vicious movie. The picture is primarily a survival story and an unusually successful combination of the action and horror genres. The movie works for a variety of reasons but among its most impressive qualities is its authenticity. The main characters of Green Room are members of an underground punk rock band who are scraping out a living by playing in bars and club houses. The film portrays this band with a great deal of authenticity; they live out of their van, speak about music with insider’s jargon, and have the genuine feel of a band. They are introduced in the first scene siphoning gasoline and later get swindled out of a show fee and are forced to take a gig at a white supremacist clubhouse out of economic necessity. The set design of Green Room is similarly authentic. The interior of the clubhouse has a grimy visual texture and the set design is dense with details that give the locations a genuine feel. The white supremacist subculture is also presented with many subtle details and code words that give the movie credibility. The cast of Green Room is terrific. The band members are played by Alia Shawkat, Anton Yelchin, Callum Turner, and Joe Cole and the group has an authentic rapport. They are joined by a bystander played by Imogen Poots who is also quite good. None of the characters are shrinking violets but they are frightened and they respond credibly to the situation. Among the villains of Green Room is Patrick Stewart as the owner of the establishment and Stewart is threatening without ever raising his voice. The cast also includes Macon Blair as an up and coming white supremacist leader and he provides the one point of nuance in the movie; Blair’s character is a dutiful solider but he’s also unsure of the moral lines. Green Room is a dark and violent film with moments of extraordinary brutality but the violence is always tethered to human stakes; the violence has consequences and is to be dreaded rather than cheered. This picture is also exceptionally well made. The action is ferocious and claustrophobic, playing out in narrow, dingily lit hallways. This movie grabs the audience and doesn’t let up until its climax and Green Room gets under the viewer’s skin in a way that few movies ever do.

What Doesn’t: Green Room is an A-to-Z survival story and so it does not allow for much nuance or character development. Everyone in this movie is exactly who they appear to be on the outset and no one really changes over the course of the film. Compare Green Room to The Raid: Redemption or the original The Hills Have Eyes; those movies told similar stories and were just as relentless but also managed to work in character details and allow some gradation in the conflict. Green Room is a successfully straightforward survival movie but that’s basically all it is. The villains of the movie are part of the white power movement but there don’t appear to be any particular reasons for that group to be the villain of this film. The white supremacists of Green Room are interchangeable with any other fanatical group like a street gang or religiously-motivated terrorists in that they represent an easy and accessible evil to mainstream audiences. Green Room also suffers from a few implausible details. When the conflict kicks off , one of the characters makes a 9-1-1 call but only the police show up, not an ambulance, and the authorities do not appear to interview anyone or investigate the premises. Early on in the conflict, one of the band members is severely injured with knife wounds to his arm. The injury is so severe that the character would bleed out or go into shock rather than be able to fight off the villains.

Bottom Line: Green Room is an excellent thriller. It is grim and may be too violent for some viewer’s tastes but it is also very well made and a gripping piece of filmmaking.

Episode: #595 (May 22, 2016)