I’ve never been in an indie band. In fact the only musical instrument I can play is the radio. However, I’ve known a lot of musicians and several of them have made a living touring around the country. Touring sounds glamourous. For big name acts that sell out stadiums and convention center venues it probably is. For indie bands it can be a bit rougher. Eating what you can, when you can, crashing on couches or in your tour van… these are just a few of the luxury items that go with that kind of tour. However, my friends that have done the van-tour life, are about the music. They want to play and share their gift so they’ll do what they need to do to stay on the road. Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room takes that one step farther; the band has to do what they need to do to survive.
Green Room starts out with punk band the “Ain’t Rights” stuck in a cornfield. The band members, Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole) and Tiger (Callum Turner) have driven their van into a cornfield after it ran out of gas. They haven’t been doing so well on their tour of the Pacific Northwest and are out of money so Pat and Sam bicycle down the road until they find some cars to syphon gas out of.
They’re running on empty and when their latest gig and radio interview are a bust they figure they’ll have to pack it in. However, the radio host feels bad he’s let them down, so he arranges a paying gig for them through his cousin Daniel (Mark Webber). The only catch is the gig is at a neo-Nazi skinhead bar in the woods somewhere outside of Portland.
The band isn’t thrilled to be playing a skinhead joint, but they make the best of it. While in the green room before the show Sam plugs her cell phone (the broke band’s only cell phone) in to charge. The band’s set goes well, they get paid and all is great. They start to leave, but Sam forgot her phone. Pat runs back to get it, only to walk in to find one of the skinheads has murdered a woman. Pat calls the police, but bar employees Gabe (Macon Blair) and Big Justin (Eric Edelstein) take the band’s phone and hold the whole band and another witness, Amber (Imogen Poots), in the green room at gun point.
Gabe calls the police back and explains there was a stabbing as the result of a fight. The police are coming, but he gets two of the skinheads with clean arrest records to take the fall for the stabbing, even going so far as to have one of them stab the other in a way that hurts, but is not really damaging. The cops come and take the two into custody, but now the club is on the police’s radar so things are more complicated.
Gabe calls the club’s owner, and the head of the whole neo-Nazi movement in that part of the country, Darcy (Sir Patrick Stewart). Darcy knows there’s no good way out of this, so he decides they’ll have to kill the whole band, but make it look like an accident. They search the band’s van and find the syphoning gear. Darcy decides this is perfect and plans to make it look like the band was trespassing to steal gas from his farm and they were attacked and killed by his trained Rottweilers.
The band, still being held by Big Justin in the green room, manage to get the drop on the huge skinhead and capture the gun and a box cutter for weapons. Now a dangerous standoff begins as Darcy can’t just storm the room. He needs the band to die in ‘the right way’ or else the police will be suspicious. The band just want to survive, but that may not be on their playlist this time.
Green Room is an intense horror-thriller that doesn’t pull any punches with the violence and gore. Saulnier’s film starts out slow as we get to know the band and understand them as people. Then he drops us into the fire in an instant when the body is discovered. From that point on the film ratchets up the tension with each scene.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the film is the presence of Sir Patrick Stewart as Darcy the neo-Nazi leader. The veteran British actor delivers his most chilling performance as the cold and calculating leader of the alt-right hate group. He’s the most dangerous kind of villain because though his philosophy is flawed and ignorant, he is anything but stupid. His ruthlessness and intelligence make him much more terrifying than his foot soldiers with their guns and knives.
Anton Yelchin is also brilliant in what would turn out to be one of his final films before his untimely death in 2016. His character, Pat, makes no pretense about his own lack of courage, but at the same time, he steps up when asked to. In one scene where his arm is brutally savaged by the neo-Nazis with machetes as they try to take the band’s captured gun from him, it is his performance as much as the grizzly special effects that sell the scene and make it so dramatic and chilling.
Green Room is a violent masterpiece. The film has many scenes of horrifically realistic violence. This part of the action is hard to stomach, but at the same time, it brings the plight of the band members into stark reality, making their terror become the audience’s own as they struggle to survive against heartless killers.
So if you’re ready for a horror-thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat, if you can stomach it, check out Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room. If you do, also be prepared to see Sir Patrick Stewart play the most chilling character of his career. You may not ever look at Captain Picard the same way again.