Green Room (directed by Jeremy Saulnier, whose Blue Ruin I liked a lot), may just be the most effective slice of siege thriller this side of early John Carpenter. After introducing us to the film’s protagonists, a punk rock band down on their luck, it quickly sets up the situation that drives the rest of the action: after a last-minute gig at a backwaters dive populated by white supremacists, one of the band members accidentally comes across a murder scene in the titular green room. The band is locked in the room with one of the bouncers, while the neo-Nazis consult with the bar’s owner and their leader, the commanding Darcy (played to pragmatic, evil perfection by Patrick Stewart), who concludes that the only way to resolve the situation is to kill the witnesses.
What makes Green Room almost unbearably tense from the beginning is the sheer imbalance between the two sides: the band may play punk rock, but its members are about as intimidating as a college kid in a Sex Pistols tee. The neo-Nazis, on the other hand, are obviously not unused to violence and murder, and when Darcy tells them to use knives and attack dogs instead of guns they look even more eager than before to get themselves a piece of the action. Their choice of implements makes the situation more frightening, and while Saulnier doesn’t revel in gore, he certainly doesn’t shy back from showing the kind of damage done to the human body by blades and canines.
Green Room isn’t an action film, and the protagonists’ fight for their lives isn’t played for fun: the movie is grim, bleak and for a long time hopeless. It’s only once the band’s ranks are thinned, by gruesome, bloody means, that opportunities develop for them to fight back successfully. In all this, Saulnier’s direction is efficient to a fault: the tension never drops for one second.
All of this is also why, although I very much respect the craft that’s evident on the screen, I ended up finding the experience unpleasant – and I don’t think that’s entirely on the film. I suspect that when I was younger I would’ve enjoyed Green Room much more for the adrenaline and thrills it produces. All the film’s elements would have made for a harrowing yet exciting ride. Is it that I’m getting more squeamish as I get older? Less able to deal with the sheer intensity of films such as Green Room?
It’s a shame, because I look at the movie and see that it’s immensely well made: it is effective and tense, and there are interesting wrinkles to the story such as the bar’s oddly empathetic doorman (played by Macon Blair, the lead in Blue Ruin), who obviously looks up to Darcy but is visibly upset about the carnage he knows will follow. I can only praise the film for how well it does what it does, and what it does isn’t something I dislike on principle: there are numerous films sharing qualities with Green Room that I liked. Perhaps I would have enjoyed the film more if it had been less accomplished at evoking a hopeless, bleak situation, but as it is, Green Room is one of the most effective nightmare I’ve seen on screen – and, truth to tell, I hope that I won’t see another such nightmare for a good long time.