Bigotry ends up playing little direct role in the reckless murderous corruption that advances the plot of the locked-room thriller Green Room. Still, Jeremy Saulnier bluntly sets the record straight, early and often, that the thugs who run the exclusionary heavy metal club in the backwoods of Oregon where the film is set and who cover up crimes on their own premises are wretched, loathsome pieces of shit undeserving of a space on this planet. When our heroes, a woebegone punk quartet called the Ain’t Rights, arrive in the titular backstage lair before a gig they’ve taken in the express interest of some much-needed cash, the background of every shot is littered with a cornucopia of advertisements for modern history’s most oppressive institutions: swastika wall scribbles, Confederate flags, and all kinds of shiver-inducing decals advocating for the supremacy of the straight white male.
The band—consisting of guitarist Pat (Anton Yelchin), singer Tiger (Callum Turner), drummer Reece (Joe Cole), and bassist Sam (Alia Shawkat)—hails from D.C., and it quickly becomes clear that they’re terrifyingly far from a land where politicking has an effect. An atmosphere of menace hangs heavy in the air, beginning with a chokehold issued by one of the club’s engineers upon the band’s arrival and extending to every brooding skinhead in the audience, all looking the part of the meanest, toughest dive-bar regulars imaginable. The venue, masterminded by a coolly dictatorial figure by the name of Darcy Banker (Patrick Stewart), is armed to the teeth and staffed more suitably for a war than an afternoon of live music (the employees wear tall black boots and drive army-green Jeeps, after all), and when an altercation occurs backstage that results in an unwanted fatality, the venue’s staff members prove unafraid to unleash the full strength of their resources to displace blame and erase any incriminating evidence, be it blood stains or witnesses.
This all becomes startlingly apparent when, at the end of an extended verbal standoff staged across the barrier of the club’s bolted green room’s door, the band agrees to transfer a loaded gun to a smooth-talking Darcy, not realizing the presence of ferocious goons on the other side ready to pounce. Indeed, the attempts at diplomacy lead directly to a mangled forearm for Pat—not the first of many revolting images of carnage dispensed throughout the film, but certainly the most gruesome (well, at least before an attack dog chews out a man’s jugular until it resembles a lump of Ramen noodles.)
Green Room is an unambiguous endorsement of violent revolt as the only effective response to such inhuman savagery. It makes no concessions to the contrary, and given the evils at play here, Saulnier’s anger is warranted, even liberating. Shortly after Pat gets his arm sawed to bits, he makes an attempt to offer an anecdotal rallying cry to his brethren, referencing a paintballing excursion from his past. In a moment of ticking-clock hysteria, the gesture of sentimentality seems poorly timed; indeed, fellow hostage Amber (Imogen Poots), a punk chick whose best friend’s death prompted this conflict and who at this point has already, with declining patience, suggested brute force as an oppositional strategy, cuts him off with a sarcastic “That a pep talk?” But later, during a rare lull in the midst of a skyrocketing body count, she asks him to finish his story, whereby he cites his beleaguered squad rising from the ashes to defeat a team of faultless ex-marines by charging at them like barbarians.
The next time Pat and Amber grace the screen, it’s in full-on vigilante-warrior mode. When asked by a few skinheads to turn toward them and reveal his identity, Pat eye-rollingly pronounces, “Odin himself.” Why the predators would realistically bother posing the question, not to mention postponing their gunfire to do so, is another matter entirely, and indeed, Green Room on the whole can be accused of some lapses in logic, as well as a tendency to characterize its mob as either steely or timid depending on the needs of the script. One glaring gaffe would be Darcy’s apparent inability to hear, after hitherto being so preternaturally in control of his operation, some intruders entering his body-disposal grounds just a stone’s throw away and ordering around his sidekicks, a mistake on his part that proves pivotal.
To some extent, the nasty conviction behind Saulnier’s vision renders these issues moot. The film is predicated on our incomplete understanding of the larger forces at work beyond the grasp of the floundering young rockers, collectively our point of identification. We’re often privy to Darcy and his gang’s cold preparations, though the script only gives the villains non-specific statements—“You think they know?,” “Later is better for time of death,” “Forensics is no longer a concern”—that throw the nature of the conspiratorial operation into question. What’s more, the film reveals fissures in the groupthink: At one point, a club employee offers to covertly escort the remaining survivors out of the building, but gets his cheek blown clean off before he gets a chance to issue directions—a reminder that nothing underhanded or calculated will beat Darcy, as well as Saulnier’s assertion that none of the skinheads will be permitted to come within spitting distance of heroism. In cultivating an air of uncertainty while never letting the target of his bile waver, Saulnier has crafted a work of thunderous visceral impact.