Fans of bloody siege flicks will dig Jeremy Saulnier’s new suspense thriller Green Room, about a punk band trapped by killers. But the more you know about punk and DIY culture, the more fun you will have.
It starts where all great DIY tragedies begin: in a crappy van en route to that night’s couch-surf. The four members of The Ain’t Rights (Alia Shawkat, Anton Yelchin, Joe Cole, Callum Turner) are winding up a tour in the Pacific Northwest. Their host interviews them for his radio show, and the band takes strong stands on desert-island bands (Misfits, natch) and anti-success (“booking more shows, selling more records would blow”). Needing gas money to get back to Arlington, Va., the band agrees to a gig its host suggests, even though the venue is way out in the woods and attracts a “boots and braces” crowd.
The joint is a big shack with a straight-up white-supremacist bent, but seems efficiently run. The band is sorta bratty, opening its set with the Dead Kennedys classic “Nazi Punks (Fuck Off).” It’s a nice bit of misdirection as the camera cuts to some agitated folks in the crowd. Turns out they’re freaking out about something else. Something bad. Something a bunch of outsiders aren’t supposed to see. The band is quickly hustled into the now not-so-safe green room.
One of the film’s meta jokes is that being DIY really matters. After being trapped and hunted, the band members are forced to improvise weapons, strategize on the fly and break out of the club by any means necessary. (A sub-joke finds the band members adjusting some of their punk ethos in the face of death: A second round of desert-island bands are picked, and one group member offers inspirational moments from an uncool paintball game he once attended.)
In-jokes aside, Green Room is a pretty decent thriller, replete with genre faves like gruesome assaults, a one-location lockdown and colorful villains. Chief among them is the club’s steely-eyed, ruthlessly efficient and malevolently droll owner, Darcy (Patrick Stewart). It also offers solid roles for its two actresses (Shawkat and Imogen Poots), who get to be angry and resourceful, and not merely imperiled and rescued.
Also in its favor: Green Room is a lean 90 minutes and the plot, while a bit muddled, makes sense. Too many similar siege thrillers simply rely on innocents accidentally intersecting with a psychopathic killer in an isolated location. The Ain’t Rights are going to get killed. They don’t deserve to, and it’s a negative end to what’s already been a bummer tour. But it is a positive solution for somebody else. Unless they can, as the punks say, “Fight back!”