Green Room (2015) ☆☆☆(3/4): Trapped in the green room

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“Green Room” is a bleak, cold-blooded thriller determined to shock and disturb us. Once its unfortunate young characters suddenly find themselves trapped a grim situation way over their head, the movie keeps pushing them into more fear and dread, and we are chilled and frightened by its merciless narrative logic as the situation becomes more narrowed and tightened for them. Although it begins to lose its tension during its last 20 minutes, the movie continues to hold our attention thanks to skillful direction and engaging performances, and I appreciate that even though I observed the movie from the distance rather than being wholly involved in it.

At first, it merely seems to be an inconvenient but necessary gig for them. Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole), and Tiger (Callum Turner) are the members of a minor punk rock band called the Ain’t Rights, and their current status is almost near the bottom as shown from the quiet opening scene of the film. When they wake up in their shabby van during one early morning, they find that their van crashed into a cornfield, and it looks like they had a pretty wild time during last night. The van is all right at least, but they unfortunately run out of gas, and they have no choice but to steal gas from other vehicle because of their financial shortage.

They have been moving along the Pacific Northwest area for a while, and their latest destination is Seaside, Oregon, where they meet a local promoter named Tad (David W. Thompson). Although Tad kindly lets the band members stay at his house besides interviewing them for a radio show, the gig he promised to them turns out to be far less rewarding than they expected, so he gives another gig as a compensation. His cousin is looking for a band to play at some bar located within a remote forest area outside Portland, and he guarantees that they will get paid handsomely for this gig.

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Now this naturally sounds inauspicious, but the band members are already reminded from the start that there will be a certain degree of risk or inconvenience. Tad does not hide that the bar in question is a gathering place of neo-Nazi skinhead gangs, and the band members have to accept this uncomfortable offer anyway because they really need money now.

Nevertheless, that does not suppress their rebellious attitude. As soon as they arrive at the bar not long after driving their van deep into its surrounding forest area, they clearly sense the aggressive mood around the bar and many of its skinhead customers, but they decide to start their performance with one of the very last songs you can imagine being performed at a neo-Nazi bar.

Fortunately, despite their understandable initial displeasure, the audiences come to enjoy the performance in the end, and the band members are happy to play their music and then get paid as promised, but one small act leads to a very serious trouble right before they leave the bar. They become the witnesses of something they should not see, and it is quite apparent that they are the problem to be taken care of sooner or later. As they are stuck in the waiting room behind the stage (the title of the movie means a space for performers before and after their performance, by the way), the band members desperately search for any possible way out, but they are reminded again and again that they may not survive this very unlucky day.

While Gabe (Macon Blair) and other skinhead gang members try to get the situation under control, their leader/bar owner Darcy (Patrick Stewart) arrives, and he knows how to handle the situation. Surprisingly effective in his against-type role, Stewart presents his villain character as a calm, rational man capable of doing whatever should be done for him and his vile organization, and his understated performance is all the more chilling to watch as Darcy and his men steadily and systematically corner their targets through his smart and brutal tactics. While he and his men certainly have advantages, Darcy is always watchful and careful in every step of his diabolical plan, and it goes without saying that there is not much chance for the band members trapped inside the bar.

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The movie occasionally punctuates its tension with striking bursts of violence and blood while the situation becomes more hopeless for the band members, and the prominent use of green color on the screen further accentuates its nightmarish atmosphere especially during its second half. Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, and Callum Turner are convincing as their characters are put under more pressures along the plot, and Imogen Poots provides a good supporting performance as another crucial character in the story.

“Green Room” is written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, who made a notable breakthrough with his previous film “Blue Ruin” (2013). Although that movie depended on the low budget partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign, it was an impressive work which showed his confident control of mood and storytelling, and the result was an intense, haunting revenge drama which was one of the cinematic highlights of 2014.

While I found its plot and characterization a little too thin to care about and I also have some reservations about its third act which uses a few easy contrivances for narrative resolution, “Green Room” confirms that Saulnier is indeed a talented filmmaker to watch, and he definitely deserves to be praised for drawing a rare villain performance from Stewart. It is always fun to watch something unexpected from a familiar actor, you know.

Sidenote: The movie is one of the last films of Anton Yelchin, who sadly died due to a car accident not long after the movie was released in US.

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