“My last show there didn’t end well. Lots of vomit, fecal matter.”
Pat, Sam, Reece, and Tiger are members of Ain’t Rights, an East Coast punk rock band that travel and survive gig to gig. They’re all twenty-somethings, adorned with tattoos, and a love for heavy, grinding music. The film begins with them waking up somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, their van off-road in a cornfield, low on fuel and clinging to life. But it’s okay, they’ve been in this situation before. Pat and Sam hop on a bike and travel eleven miles to the nearest town to siphon gas from unsuspecting patrons. Such is the way of this particular act. They’re efficient in their misdemeanors. They give and get just enough to make it to the next set, scraping by on mostly empty shows, and meals of rice and beans.
GREEN ROOM starts off pretty lightheartedly. Continuing on the road, they end up at Tad’s house, a rocker with a mohawk who lets the band crash at his place. They crank up the vinyl, drink some beers, and draw on Pat’s face with a sharpie when he foolishly falls asleep early. The next morning Tad tells the group about an opportunity for some cash at a backwoods bar just outside Portland. They of course agree. It’s a sensationally bad decision.
The crowd they play to is almost exclusively skinheads. The walls of the roadhouse are covered in Confederate flags, signs and stickers of “White Power,” and others of that ilk. To rile the audience, they play a cover of the Dead Kennedys 1981 “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” and the song fulfills their wish. Beer bottles and epithets are hurled at the stage, yet the crowd welcomes them. An oddly melodic mosh pit occurs, delighted racists jumping and crashing into one another.
The Ain’t Rights play it tough, but reality seeps (or gushes) back in when Pat inadvertently walks in on a murder scene, a patron lies on the floor with a knife lodged in her head. Pat and his mates are herded back inside and the film hits the accelerator. It soon becomes clear that being allowed to leave is not an option and a standoff occurs. On one side it’s the band plus Amber, a local; on the other, the employees of the bar, led by their manager, Darcy (Patrick Stewart).
Stewart is so calm and methodical with his words. He speaks to Pat and company through a locked door, essentially confessing that they won’t get out alive, but his voice is so shockingly soothing, that it almost makes you want to open it and let the bad guys in. And Stewart is delightful, if there was any doubt. He is of course best known as Captain Picard on STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION, or more recently, the X-MEN films. Darcy is such a despicable human being. When he orders the assault, he preaches knives, not guns, seemingly to inflict more pain. In one scene he alternates between strategizing for the deaths of innocents, and booking the next house band. Darcy is a role unlike anything Stewart’s done before and he nails it. It’s brilliant casting.
Across the board, all the actors are fantastic. Anton Yelchin (Pat) and Amber (Imogen Poots) are probably the most recognizable. Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, and Callum Turner round out the Ain’t Rights. Poots’s Amber has this perfect, robotic delivery. Perhaps it’s the drugs, perhaps it’s the shellshock she’s experienced, but her moments on screen are transfixing. They are thrust into this unfathomable situation, and are the furthest away from trained for this. Their years have been spent plucking strings and banging drums. When the five of them attempt escape, it’s a bloody, messy cacophony. They’re up against machetes and attack dogs. Blades and teeth cut through their flesh as speaker feedback and screams fill our ears.
Macon Blair is a carry over from BLUE RUIN, director Jeremy Saulnier’s first film. Here Blair plays Gabe, one of Darcy’s minions. The disparity between he and the rest of the antagonists is palpable. He’s soft-spoken, and so damn friendly. Frankly, it’s alarming. It’s clear that he’s not cut out for this line of work, that you can’t help but wonder what paths he’s taken to get to this point. A few different choices and his life is flipped upside down. Where his co-workers crave the cutting and slicing, he winces at the carnage that unfolds in front of him.
There’s a societal tangent that threatens to poke through the film, but Saulnier never lets that stance take hold. In truth, it would have been largely unnecessary. Like BLUE RUIN, GREEN ROOM is a streamlined, absolutely terrifying story. After reading the script, Stewart (speaking to the New York Times) said, “I sat down at my house in rural West Oxfordshire, and I had read about 35 pages of Jeremy’s script when I put it aside, got up and went all around my house checking that the doors and windows were locked. I put on the perimeter lights and set the alarm.” Normally in a film such as this, you’ll get hit by infrequent waves of action, but GREEN ROOM is a tsunami. As the credits rolled, I took a deep breath. It felt like the first one in a long while.