Punk may not have the cachet it once did, but it still certainly attracts a devout following. And this is exactly what an underground band called The Ain’t Rights is counting on as they tour the desolate Pacific Northwest, an appropriate backdrop for any tale of horror or element of the sinister. And considering the state’s white supremacist history, it’s only natural that the band’s audience near Portland would consist mainly of neo-Nazis.
But before Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole) and Tiger (Callum Turner) find themselves playing at this impromptu replacement gig, they’re being interviewed by a punk-phile radio show host named Tad (David W. Thompson), who asks them that cliche, but oh so important question: “What’s your desert island band?” Some offer typical responses, like, “The Misfits” and “Black Sabbath,” while others opt for slightly more unexpected answers that come to light later on, such as Amber (Imogen Poots), an audience member-turned-hostage, suggesting the beautiful combination of Slayer and Madonna. And yes, even Prince gets a nod as one of the choices in a fortuitously fitting homage that suits his recent and unexpected death. It is around this point, in fact, that the psychological thriller aspect of Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room begins to intensify.
For it is Tad that sends the band on their way toward Portland to stay with his cousin, Daniel (Mark Webber), a skinhead, but an open-minded one (if that means anything), so that he can make up for The Ain’t Rights’ marginal earnings at a gig he promised would be more lucrative. As the band takes the stage to perform “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” the audience reaction is, expectedly, hostile. Nonetheless, they still collect their pay, mistakenly thinking that this is the end of yet another shitty but bearable night. However, if Saulnier’s sophomore film, Blue Ruin, taught us anything, it’s that the writer-director is fond of slow builds.
The shrouded-in-mystery plot that centers, ultimately, around ominous club owner Darcy Banker (Patrick Stewart), is triggered by the death of Amber’s friend, Emily, who Sam and Pat find stabbed in the head in the green room after Sam goes back in there to retrieve her left behind phone. The only other person in the room is Werm (Brent Werzner), Emily’s boyfriend and a fellow regular at the club. But before fingers can fully be pointed, Amber and the band are sequestered by two bouncers, Gabe (Macon Blair) and Big Justin (Eric Edelstein). The situation escalates as their phones are confiscated and they’re told to wait while the police come–only after Pat has called them himself. Because of the rising intensity of the cover-up, Darcy is summoned to help, prompting him to pay two skinheads to stab each other to make it look like this is the true reason someone dialed 911. Once the police come and go, the claustrophobia of the film amps up, with the band’s lack of options augmenting by the second.
Even after they manage to finagle Big Justin’s gun from him, they’re still rendered powerless when Darcy coaxes it out of them, which only leads to one of the most gruesome scenes of the movie: Pat’s arm getting stabbed to oblivion (in punk rock fashion, however, he carries on with the simple wrapping of duct tape around it). Amber’s MacGyver-like knowledge proves useful when the power goes out, but, eventually most of them are sitting ducks with Darcy’s use of killer pitbulls to attack them. As the plot slowly unravels the motive behind the dead body–a lover’s quarrel, of course–we’re given something more meaningful than mere explanation: a horror movie that fully adopts the spirit of punk rock. Green Room truly does not give a fuck what you think or how you feel, you just have to accept it or not.