It does a good job of planting seeds that make you think you know where the movie’s going, only for it to not ever go there.
The new Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin) horror/thriller Green Room gets a lot of little things right. A horror movie set on the punk rock scene, with a punk band as the heroes? Yes! And where the bad guys are white supremacist punks? Sign me up! How about Alia Shawkat, criminally underused since playing Maeby on Arrested Development, as one of the punk rock heroes? …I’ll spare you more aggressive punctuation, but you get the idea.
So yeah, after a dud lunchtime show that results in $6 per band member (that’s so punk rock), the cleverly-named Ain’t Rights are left with not enough gas money to make it to the next gig on their tour. The young organizer of the lunch show sets them up with another nearby show, guaranteed to pay $350, to help compensate for how worthless his first show was. That, or he did it out of malice, as it’s this $350 show where the Ain’t Rights encounter a room full of aggressive neo-nazis. Being a Fear-influenced punk band, they open their set with “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” which agitates the crowd, but then their set smoothes out from there.
After the set, as they’re collecting their money and on their way out the door, Ain’t Right member Pat (Anton Yelchin) witnesses a murder. This of course leads to the whole band being quarantined with a surly guard as the Nazi organizers perform a cover-up. From here, Green Room plays with a lot of your old favorite tropes, and perhaps creates some new ones for good measure: being locked in a small room with at least one, and perhaps more, large people who want to kill you; mean-looking dogs that have a bite command; a would-be femme fatale named Amber (Imogen Poots), a friend of the deceased; and, in what will be a big selling point for the film, Patrick Stewart as the villain (Darcy, the owner of the club).
While in most ways Green Room is a functional, above-average, but perhaps not excellent film, there is more to recommend it than just its creative casting and well-chosen milieu for a horror film. For example, it does a good job of planting seeds that make you think you know where the movie’s going, only for it to not ever go there. This isn’t to say that the film is unpredictable, exactly, but it is pretty handy at throwing you off of its scent.
With The Witch earlier this year and Ex Machina last year, A24 have been rising quickly as one of the most trustworthy distributors of genre films. Or, when one takes into account stuff like It Follows or maybe The Babadook, it might just be that the past couple of years have been particularly fruitful for the horror genre. Regardless the explanation, Green Room is another worthwhile addition to the roster of recent genre films to be celebrated. | Pete Timmermann