Horror movies at their best can tell you something deep about the human condition, it can release your deepest fears and grant you peace, or it can teach you important life lessons. Jeremy Saulnier’s 2015 horror-thriller teaches us a lesson that we could all use – when your band finds themselves performing for the “boots-n-braces” crowd, or skin-head neo-nazis, perhaps it’s not a good idea to open your act by performing Dead Kennedy’s Nazi Punks Fuck Off. The Ain’t Rights at the heart of this narrative however, are unaware that this can only lead to being trapped in a Green Room with a dead body and a scary Patrick Stewart on the other side, promising the worst kind of punishment, should the door be breached.
What Green Room has going for it is a near relentless build up of stomach churning violence, underpinned by the ever growing feeling the walls of the titular room are closing in on the band. Saulnier’s previous film felt like an antidote to the often salacious revenge movie with Blue Ruin but Green Room feels more in line with John Carpenter films. Take the claustrophobia of The Thing, mix in the shock violence of Halloween, add a little of the siege feel from Assault on Precinct 13 and cook until unbearable. Saulnier’s ability to build tension only to punctuate a situation with violence puts the horror in the film, everything from a stomach cut open, an arm being slashed to ribbons, even a nasty dog attack provide ample duck-and-cover moments.
However, the film’s ace is in Saulnier’s casting. The central four roles are all cast with an eye to the baggage each actor brings. Anton Yelchin as de-facto leader Pat, who becomes weaker and more strung out as the film continues is in opposition to his usual role as a cool-as-a-cucumber type exemplified by Fright Night, Like Crazy and Charlie Bartlett, while Alia Shawkat’s serious minded Sam who, at one point has a nasty showdown with a very angry dog, forces you to reconsider what you thought you knew about Maeby Funke in Arrested Development. The same goes for Imogen Poots who’s nice-girl image, an attainable but also ethereal figure in so many films is a down-and-dirty type, thrust into this world of neo-nazis and growing piles of dead bodies. Perhaps most perverse, Sir Patrick Stewart, noble Shakespearean luvvie and sci-fi icon with an eye to classy wit is instead the ruthless and cruel Darcy, leader of the Neo-Nazis. Seeing the once and future Picard, Professor X and best friend of Ian McKellen as a horrible, sadistic skin-head only serves to upend what you think you know, or expect. When Stewart calmly informs those hiding in the green room that “it won’t end well”, the blood drains from your face and immediately to your heart, because you know… he means it.
Green Room is neither a scare fest nor a disgusting torture movie, it sits happily in it’s own little corner of stomach tightening tension that eventually hurts to be in the presence of, it’s release valves – the violence, the occasional dry laugh, it finally ending – offer no rest from the long drawn on assault that came before it.
Needless to say, it didn’t end well.