The internet buzz surrounding Green Room mostly had to do with one thing: Patrick Stewart of Star Trek fame playing a white supremacist mobster. While the former Captain Picard is incredible as a villain, there is so much more to this film. It has mostly flown under the radar despite being a truly frightening, well-made horror movie.
Green Room stars fellow Star Trek alum Anton Yelchin as Pat, the bass player in The Ain’t Rights, a punk band touring the Pacific Northwest. Desperately in need of cash to continue touring, the band agrees to play at a bar that turns out to be run by skinheads. After their set, they discover a murder in the green room and are trapped by the skinhead gang.
Green Room is unrelenting. It’s scary in ways few horror movies are anymore, with a situation that feels all too real. There are no ghosts or monsters, and the characters make decisions in the same ways real people would. Each character is given proper development – they feel appropriately human. When Stewart read the script, he allegedly locked his doors, turned on his security system, and poured himself a scotch. Just watching the film is enough to make the viewer consider buying the biggest, meanest guard dog they can find.
Part of what makes Green Room so scary is that it’s different from its contemporaries. So many modern indie horror films rely on either retro-style nostalgia or long, slow takes. (Or, in the case of It Follows, both.) Green Room feels claustrophobic and has a lightning-quick pace that makes it feel hard to catch your breath. From the moment the band arrives, the film is infused with dread and unease. Just as the members of the band are uncomfortable, the viewer is uncomfortable.
Of course, the band is a punk one, and they aren’t exactly down with the skinhead crowd. They open their set with the Dead Kennedys‘ song “Nazi Punks F*ck Off”. The crowd gets raucous, but they turn that rage into moshing when the band goes into their second song. It’s a hint of what’s to come, the narrow line between surviving all the aggression and becoming victim to it.
The punk rock setting and soundtrack add to the intensity of the film. The characters become trapped in the green room, which is filthy and covered in hateful graffiti. The soundtrack consists almost entirely of punk music, known for screaming voices, shrieking guitars, and rapid drum beats. It’s an audio adrenaline rush that makes moments of silence seem even more unnatural.
Patrick Stewart is terrifying as the menacing leader of the Neo-Nazis that run the bar, but it’s the rest of the cast that makes the movie work. Yelchin does what he does best, playing the kind of guy you want to see survive the movie. He’s the “everyman” without being bland, as if his character from Fright Night decided to tour with a punk band. The rest of the band are great as well, each trying to survive through whatever means necessary.
What’s great about Green Room‘s many characters is that they don’t fit traditional horror stereotypes. This is not a tale of the jock, the nerd, the virgin, the whore, and the fool, but rather a tale of well-rounded, realistic characters put into a terrible situation. Alia Shawkat is great as the band’s only female member, and her involvement in the story doesn’t focus entirely on gender. It’s refreshing that the characters are people with motivations and personality traits instead of a compilation of tropes.
The realism extends beyond the characters. Many horror movies are violent, but the blood and gore can feel cartoonish or gratuitous. Movies like Saw numb the viewer to the brutality quickly. Green Room uses short bursts of violence instead, giving the trauma a greater impact. Director Jeremy Saulnier’s previous film, Blue Ruin, also featured a similar tactic. Every punch, stab, or breaking bone is visceral. Blood doesn’t have to spray everywhere for the viewer to know that someone is seriously hurt. The film even has a brief meta moment when one of the characters comments that the murder victim can’t be dead because there’s no blood. (Someone then removes the knife from her skull, and there’s more than enough of the red stuff.) There’s just enough ultraviolence to keep every death and wounding feeling fresh, and the shock never wears off.
The Devil You Know
In addition to amazing performances, realistic dialogue and gore, and scares that don’t just shock immediately but sink into the psyche, Green Room also features a terrifying villain. Patrick Stewart isn’t the only good thing about Green Room, or even the film’s selling point, but he does a damn fine job of being the scariest white supremacist this side of Edward Norton in American History X.
Horror fans sick of the current trends or looking for something new have a real gem on their hands with Green Room. It’s not just scary while you watch, but leaves its claws inside for long after the movie ends.