Green Room represents exactly the things that have created my general resistance(?) to horror movies and why I’ve still seen so many of them. Green Room is a thrilling movie and on paper I like lots of movies that are exciting… but most of those are action movies. Here, the intensity is in service of creating dire situations that you have to hope you’ll never face in real life. You could go as far as to describe them as miserable. And yet, the movie is smartly made with fully-realized characters, beautiful imagery, and all the other film criticism cliches. It adds up to an all-too-familiar picture: a movie I respect a helluva lot more than I like.
The Ain’t Rights are a shitty punk band sputtering to their last gig on their tour of the Pacific Northwest (somewhere outside Portland, we see Mt. Hood). When we first meet them, they’ve crashed into a cornfield overnight and bassist Pat (Anton Yelchin) and guitarist Sam (Alia Shawkat) have to sneak over to a nearby skating rink to siphon gas. They roll into town and meet a local radio host, Tad (David W. Thompson), who tells them that their show was cancelled but he can hook them up with his cousin, who can get them a spot at a skinhead bar in the woods. Being punk rockers and also desperate, the Ain’t Rights accept.
After a set that that surprisingly goes fairly well, despite the obvious political disconnect between the crowd and the band, bar employees Gabe (Macon Blair) and Big Justin (Eric Edelstein) try to rush the group out before they can return to the green room. However, Sam left her phone charging in there, so Pat pops in to grab it. Inside he sees a horrific sight: one of the neo-Nazis has murdered a girl by stabbing her in the head. Pat frantically calls the police but he, the rest of the band, and the dead girl’s friend Emily (Imogen Poots), are quickly locked in the room with Big Justin.
What follows are a series of desperate, terrible decisions that lead to increasingly horrific consequences. The owner of the bar, Darcy (Patrick Stewart), is called in to take control of the situation, but it becomes clear pretty early on that his team is not as full of elite agents as he might have hoped. More like a bunch of dumbass racists with bloated egos and bellies. On the other side of the door is the band who are just completely out of their depth. The only experience they’ve had that even comes close to this is paintball, and they weren’t even that good at that. But you don’t have to be expert to hurt someone badly.
I think the big, graphic thing that happens in Bone Tomahawk is more memorably horrifying than any individual bit of violence in Green Room, but the former gave me the occasional respite of long, non-violent dialogue scenes while the latter just keeps ratcheting up the stakes. Green Room is actually fairly subdued in some aspects: it doesn’t linger on the violence more than it needs to and it never goes over the top. It doesn’t even give any of its actors a big, showy, scenery-chewing scene. It’s just a fairly realistic nightmare. Which is another way of saying the movie succeeds at literally everything it’s trying to do. I sympathized with the victims, I was scared, I was shocked, I was grossed out, and when it was all over, all I was left with was relief that the suffering ended. This wasn’t for me, but it was very good.