Scrappy punk sensibilities clash with backwoods fanaticism in the film "Green Room," writer/director Jeremy Saulnier's white-knuckle and claustrophobic siege thriller out of the Pacific Northwest.
As East Coast punks the Ain't Rights wrap a less-than-successful tour across the country, barely fueled by crumpled small bills and siphoned gas, the band scores a last-minute gig at a white supremacist compound promising enough cash to fuel the van ride back home.
Their set unfolds about as well as it can, in spite of opening with a certain anti-Nazi Dead Kennedys' ditty at the suggestion of bandmate Pat (played by Anton Yelchin). As the band members duck into the movie's titular green room to grab a phone left on the charger, they stumble upon a corpse and the stares of several dead-eyed skinheads.
It only gets worse for the Ain't Rights as they hole up, barricade the door and begin negotiations with club owner Darcy (played by nerd favorite Patrick Stewart), whose idea of practical damage control involves equal parts attack dogs, Dr. Martens-wearing devotees and razor blades.
When the band members realize they won't be talking their way out of the club, they resolve to fight back. The reality that they're essentially a bunch of rowdy kids hopelessly outgunned by a group with no scruples for head-stabbery doesn't escape them. Looks of fear and uncertainty rarely leave their faces.
On-screen violence can be a tricky thing to attain when amping up tension. Too much front-and-center, things might start to get gratuitous, bringing in chortles when there should be shock and awe. Too little and there's no teeth, the pressure deflates and the boredom mounts.
This balance is something "Green Room" understands. The box cutter stuffed in a back pocket can inspire more fear than the machete swung wildly about; a shotgun stashed under a bed, for emergencies we hope never become realities, can blast a bigger hole than a stocked arsenal. The violence here is scary and pointed, aimed at close friends in tight quarters, and director Saulnier takes pleasure in knowing when to twist the knife and make the audience squirm.
As the bodies pile up and the boot of wondering who's next lifts a bit from the audience's chest, the film settles into more a familiar end-movie horror tone. This lets some of the air out of the state of rigorous tension, but "Green Room" doesn't completely fall back on trite genre conventions. It still manages to inject some punkish ingenuity — and some pulse-steadying playfulness — into the story's climax.
"Green Room" garners great performances from every member of its cast, particularly in the youthful camaraderie of the Ain't Rights and from Stewart's ultra-menacing against-type role. It's not for the squeamish in any regard, but it's tightly wound with and directed with exacting precision.
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