The days of punk rock have come and gone. The genre is an old memory now, placed on the shelf next to psychedelic rock and grunge. So, a movie about Neo-Nazis trying to kill punk rockers brings a whole new meaning to the term “punk is dead,” and maybe that is the point in the horror slasher Green Room. While the genre may exist only in our memories, in Green Room it still hits a chord and resonates like a swan song or a desperate plea to hang on to the last remaining nostalgia of punk music.
And even though the characters live in a world so far removed from mainstream culture, it’s easy to empathize with them as they struggle to survive against murderous skinheads. In less talented hands, the premise of Green Room could be boiled down to a B-Movie called “Punks vs. Skinheads” — but Green Room transcends all of this with stellar writing, direction, acting and a grounded story that brings out the best in the genre and will, ultimately, make you squirm and scare you out of your seat.
Directed and written by Jeremy Saulnier, Green Room is about a punk rock band going on a tour, but they’re so broke they have to siphon gas to get from place to place. While their acclaim as an enigmatic rock band is widespread in the punk community, they still struggle to gain traction and can’t play at any real venues. When they get the chance to make a decent paycheck to play at a rural club for skinheads, they reluctantly take it, desperate to make money and keep touring. However, when they’re done playing and about to leave, Pat (Anton Yelchin) walks into the green room and witnesses a girl with a knife in her head and the men standing over her body, thrusting the entire band in a fight for survival against Darcy (Patrick Stewart) the club owner and his loyal Neo-Nazi followers.
It’s not too often a movie about punk music comes around that is compelling and unique. Saulnier takes his time setting up the story, showing the daily realities of a punk band and their struggles to make their mark in a world disinterested in their genre. It’s so incredibly grounded, and that can’t be stressed enough, because it could easily go off the rails into absurdity with the downright grisly, violent, and ruthless content — but the with the grounded tone of the film the overwhelming brutality cuts even deeper. The tension only compounds when you know your favorite characters could suffer a death that would make a Game of Thrones fan squeamish. However, it’s clear the grisly violence is not there to whet the audience’s appetite for blood, but rather a true and effective attempt to scare them to the bone. While the story was well written and directed, by the end, it’s easy to wonder what all of it was about or if there was any real true purpose besides a run of the mill slasher for a new generation.
The well-drawn characters pulled you immediately into their world, helping empathize and relate to their struggles and their adventure. Each band member had their own voice, whether through action or dialogue, and none of them felt expendable, leaving you guessing who might die next. Their charm and likability made it easy to hope none of them would get killed.
On the opposite side, it was so great to see villains with clear motivations for why they wanted the punk rockers dead rather than making them hollow and one dimensional. Darcy was a cold and calculating cult leader with vicious intent. He wasn’t an over the top Neo-Nazi caricature, but a real person, and that made him even more terrifying. The actors brought out the different personalities in each character so well. Their chemistry was perfect, and their raw emotion during a stressful situation continued to impress.
However, while Saulnier and the actors did a great job crafting likable and relatable characters, they also felt a little shallow with little information about their past, or much about them at all except a little anecdote by Pat. It’s understandable how all of that is left out considering the taut and fast paced nature of the story, but perhaps that is the double-edged sword with the genre. While you can have grounded characters in a slasher, there are limits to how deep you can go with them.
Green Room has proven Saulnier to be a talent to watch especially if he continues to stretch his legs in the horror genre. His grasp on character and the fundamentals of storytelling put him in an entire different league and could propel him toward great new things. Horror fans will love the dark intensity, grisly violence, and haunted house feel of Green Room, and if they’re fans of punk rock, then they’re in even better company. But it could be argued that the average viewer with a strong stomach and thick skin could thoroughly enjoy this one as well with its grounded story and likable characters.
Overall, Green Room is an impressive film that’ll make you want to come back a second time and perhaps dust off your old collection of punk rock albums you have in the closet.
Photos courtesy of: A24