The synopsis of Green Room makes it sound like a generic splatter film, a genre that I have absolutely no interest in and would have passed over without a second thought. What makes this film deserve a second look is that it was directed by Jeremy Saulnier, who made waves a few years ago with the utterly fantastic and mostly Kickstarter-funded Blue Ruin. This one seems to have been made using a more conventional funding model, raising enough money to get Patrick Stewart onboard. It’s actually a bit odd too see such a famous actor slumming it up with all of the unknown ones, though those who have seen Blue Ruin will recognize Macon Blair here in a supporting role.
The four members of a punk rock band are travelling from gig to gig in an old van. They get a referral to perform in a club in a remote area, tucked inside the woods. When they arrive, they are disturbed to discover that the location is a bar frequented by neo-Nazi skinheads but play their set anyway. As they are clearing out their equipment however, one of the band members happens to see a dead body in the green room, the room in which performers wait and get ready before they get on stage. The dead girl appears to be a groupie and she was murdered by the bar’s own house band. The bar’s manager switches to damage control mode and sends in an armed bouncer to watch over the band members. They manage to overpower him, get his gun and barricade themselves in the green room. A standoff ensues as they try to find a way out of the situation while the skinheads appear to be willing to kill them to ensure their silence.
As you might expect, there’s plenty of death and violence to go around though Saulnier is careful not to let the camera dwell too long on the gore. The four band members and the friend of the dead girl who joins up with them aren’t differentiated enough to make us really care about them, so we’re mostly just waiting to see which of them, if any, will make it to the end. Stewart plays the Darcy, the owner of the bar, and he’s easily the most interesting character here. His soft-spokenness and reasonable tone make the band members doubt whether or not he really means them harm, yet the audience knows that he is utterly ruthless in a very practical manner. Unfortunately there is some confusion as to what exactly his plans are as most of the conversation between him and the trapped band members take place through a locked door, making it hard to hear what he is saying. His skinheads obviously have numerical superiority but they are held back by the need to ensure that any corpses look like they have plausible causes of death that don’t point back towards them.
The best part of the film for me is that the band members don’t act like the stereotypical dumb horror film victims. They are immediately suspicious of the skinheads when they spot the first corpse and attempt to use their mobile phones to call the police. After they barricade themselves in the green room, they search for makeshift weapons and try to find alternative ways to escape the room. The survivors are also clever enough to think up some tricks to help whittle down the odds but that’s par for the course for these films and Green Room doesn’t do any better than the norm in that the goons seem to be both unskilled and under-equipped. If you’re a boss who is sending your minions to kill a bunch of people, the least that you could do is to make sure that they have enough ammunition for their guns.
In the end, however competently made, this is still a film that is constrained by its genre and doesn’t break any new ground. It’s decent enough at what it does, but it can’t hold a candle to the tension and psychological trauma depicted in Blue Ruin.