Right from the start, we don't like the characters in Green Room. Four 20-somethings, ragged and in need of several showers, wake up hungover inside their van, which has veered off the road into a cornfield. Two of them – Sam (Alia Shawkat) and Pat (Anton Yelchin) – leave to siphon gas from cars nearby. Hey, at least they're resourceful.
They call themselves a punk rock band, but unless my ears deceive me they play terrible heavy metal. Soon a guy with a mohawk (David W. Thompson) interviews the band, which also includes Reece (Joe Cole) and Tiger (Callum Turner). They insist they're "too pure" to go digital or promote themselves via social media. All that matters is the energy of performing, they say. So now they're not just miscreants, they're also pretentious and need to get over themselves.
These early details are important because they show how unlikable the main characters are, and yet soon enough Green Room captivates us with tension and has us rooting for these lowlifes to survive. It's a fascinating and unexpected twist that would seem difficult to pull off. Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier does this the only way he could: by pitting the band, aptly named "The Ain't Rights," against a group of neo-Nazi skinheads who're holding them captive after Pat stumbles upon a freshly killed corpse. Soon it becomes obvious that the Ain't Rights, along with sympathizing neo-Nazi Amber (Imogen Poots), aren't going to make it out alive.
What's unique about Green Room is the business-like approach the skinheads use to plot the murders. The owner of the remote Oregon bar in which they're held, Darcy (Patrick Stewart), insists the deaths must look accidental, or at least like self-defense. Stewart plays Darcy with little emotion: cold, soft-spoken and calculating, worried about his bottom line and how it'll all look to the outside world. The last thing he'll tolerate is indiscriminate bloodshed. If you only know Stewart as Professor Xavier in X-Men or Capt. Picard in Star Trek, you're in for a real treat here.
Some of the violence is grisly and uncomfortable, but not to the point that it takes you out of the story. In fact, it's fittingly savage for the brutal and immoral world in which these characters live. Guns, machetes, fire extinguishers, switchblades and even ferocious dogs get in on the action, and because it's lit in such a grim (dare I say "punk rock"-inspired?) way, the movie retains an earthy tone that allows the audience to embrace its horrifying reality.
But really, it's the harsh precision of Darcy and his men that makes this intriguing. The story almost functions as a procedural of how to kill innocents and make it look like it's their own fault, which is a notably compelling and dark premise on which to base a movie. Top it off with a great performance from Stewart, and Green Room becomes a tense thriller you won't want to miss.
3 out of 5 stars