Green Room is the latest film from Jeremy Saulnier, who made a name for himself with 2013’s violent arthouse hit Blue Ruin. Green Room continues the themes and style of that film, albeit on a slightly bigger budget and with more recognizable actors.
The film starts by following a young punk band who are struggling their way through a tour of America’s West Coast. The band are completely broke and when their latest gig gets cancelled they accept, out of desperation, an invitation to play at a show for skinheads. The next day they find themselves at a squalid building in the middle of the woods playing in front of 50 or so Neo-Nazis.
One of Green Room’s strengths is its authenticity. If you leave aside the whole issue of playing at a neo-Nazi concert, the general experiences of this band will be familiar to many people who have been in one themselves, while the dynamics and interactions within the group also felt real. Moreover, the depiction of the neo-Nazis was deeply menacing and disturbing, partly because of how coherent and real it all seems. The extreme right has been depicted in a number of US shows and films over the last few years–everything from Justified to Sons of Anarchy to True Detective–and the portrayal here felt at least as genuine and frightening as any of those other depictions. Patrick Stewart gives a chilling performance as their leader, Darcy, but the whole cast do a very good job. The film’s setting is hugely important, too. Rural Oregon will be familiar to anyone who has been watching Bates Motel; the remote, dark forest is deeply claustrophobic and very important for establishing the film’s atmosphere.
As with Blue Ruin, brutal violence is a major part of Green Room. One of the things that sets the film apart is its readiness to show gore in general, and in particular the specific results of violence against the human body. The cinematography is unflinching and quite shocking at times. It’s not just the results of violence, but also the abruptness–characters are often killed in an instant, with no warning or even chance to defend themselves. Green Room is a very good example of a film which shows graphic violence but does not glamorize it at all–rather, it serves to show how sickening actual violence really is. There’s very little dignity here.
Of course, a handful of young, unarmed musicians are horribly outmatched here by dozens of armed and extremely dangerous neo-Nazis. In order to have any chance of survival they have to show ingenuity and the film gives them a chance to use their brains. Once or twice you actually feel like the characters are thinking faster than you–which is quite rare in horror films, of course, and makes a welcome change. It helps make you care more about them, too. Unfortunately, some of the more interesting characters are killed off early on, and I felt the latter part of the film suffered simply because so many people had been killed. You also get the feeling that the fascists could have done a much more efficient job, considering they initially had the whole band at their mercy; but the film shows how the skinheads are themselves riven by internal problems, from drugs to police informers.
Green Room is an effective and haunting horror film, notable for its authentic portrayal of a DIY band as well as its terrifying depiction of the American far right. Probably the most frightening thing about this film was the way it forces you to confront the existence of groups like this; which seem alarmingly prevalent in the US but which also, of course, exist in Europe as well. And as anyone with significant experience of playing punk and metal shows can testify, they’re often closer than you think.