Jeremy Saulnier, who made waves in independent film with 2013’s Blue Ruin, is back again with Green Room, a perfectly paced horror-thriller. The monsters and scenarios in Green Room are so chilling because they’re familiar and realistic. Saulnier achieved this by ramping up some of the fear-inspiring experiences he had as a young punk scene kid.
“Nazi skinheads were at the shows I went to back in Washington D.C. It was a little scary,” Saulnier told The A.V. Club. “I was young. I was part of the hardcore punk scene, going to shows every other weekend. I was in a hardcore band. All my friends were in the punk scene. We weren’t just that.”
In a Reddit AMA, Saulnier described how he mined the whiff of danger that chilled him as a teen in over his head: “My punk days were relatively tame, but I was young (mid-teens) and so often felt out of my depth. There once was a stabbing outside a club and I felt the edge of real danger. Washington D.C. was the murder capital of the country back then (mid-nineties) so it was not the safest environment for a suburban twerp like myself.”
Green Room speculates about what would happen to kids like Saulnier used to be when faced with real life terror and an immediate fight to survive for another hard-won second of life. A sick haircut and impressive taste in the right bands doesn’t mean much when you’re staring down a gun barrel, or facing a dog trained to go for your throat.
The trouble starts after a young punk band, The Ain’t Rights, finish their set in a backwoods venue outside Portland, Oregan, run by white nationalists. They return to the green room to find their whole world upturned in a split second. Although they riled up the Nazi-sympathizing crowd with their cover of the provocative Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks F**k Off,” the dangerous spider web they get trapped in was already woven for them.
Their capture could have been avoided if only Sam (Ali Shawkat) didn’t leave her phone in the green room. When The Ain’t Rights go back to the artists’ lounge to retrieve the phone, they unknowingly enter another dimension, a place of horror. Werm and Amber, two frequenters of the club, are standing over the body of a young woman named Emily. There’s a knife sticking out of her head. Once the Ain’t Rights have seen Emily, it’s too late for them because they’ve seen too much. The club’s owner, Darcy (Patrick Stewart,) decides they have to be eliminated. The gore that ensues is stomach-churning and intuitively paced. The result is an expertly constructed thrill-fest.
Why all this is happening isn’t clear to the victims (and much of the time, the audience,) which makes the terror even more palpable. It’s later revealed that Emily was killed by her boyfriend Werm from the band Cowcatcher because she was going to leave with Daniel, her new beau. “Fleischwolf,” which is German for meatgrinder, was their cue to flee together. Darcy tries to pin Emily’s murder on the traveling band and get rid of any trace of them, but his control over his plan and his minions gradually disintegrates as the night wears on.
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