Green Room is the third feature film written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, and the thirty-second release from A24 Films. The company has made a name for itself by distributing films that challenge the norm and embrace the strange, especially in the horror-thriller genre. So when they announced a backwoods thriller starring quintessential hero-figure Patrick Stewart as a white supremacist gang leader, people got excited.
The plot revolves around “The Ain’t Rights,” a punk band that’s broke and desperate for gigs. They accept the offer to do a show just outside of Portland at some redneck neo-Nazi bar, complete with swastikas and Confederate flags on the walls. After witnessing something that they shouldn’t have, the band members barricade themselves inside the green room, and the movie descends into madness from then on.
Saulnier’s aim was to create a thriller, plain and simple; Green Room‘s not trying to win any awards for writing or acting. Its goal is to pick the viewers up, shake them around for 95 minutes, and toss them back in their seats. It succeeds, there’s no doubt about that, but the way it succeeds may be a tad disheartening for some people.
The story starts out strong; the band is locked in the green room, and they deal with their captors through the bolted door. The tension builds in a very claustrophobic, and very internal way. It’s very well done and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats before exploding in an intense and cathartic moment featuring some pretty heavy gore. The problem is that the flick doesn’t go back to that initial mental terror (at least not to the same extent that it had gone earlier); it commits more to the gore, and starts throwing in jump scares. It’s ultimately a matter of taste, but the emotional tension that started the story just seemed more interesting and less formulaic than what comes after.
The one performance of note is Patrick Stewart’s, which is what the film’s marketing was built around. He’s hauntingly good as the bar’s owner Darcy, but he’s also underutilized and it doesn’t feel like he reaches his full potential. Darcy is calm, cold, and calculated during high-octane events, which makes for a brilliant and menacing villain figure; it’s how Vincent D’Onofrio played Wilson Fisk in the first season of Daredevil. But Fisk also had his tantrum moments where he would explode, allowing D’Onofrio to really go nuts and explore his range. Stewart doesn’t have any of these moments in Green Room, and he really should have. Letting him off his leash would have made the film entirely better and more interesting to watch.
Expectations were high on this picture, especially with A24 Films involved. That’s why it was disappointing to see it turn out to be another by the book horror-thriller. Which isn’t to say that the movie is bad by any means. Some people will love it (it’s Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes); it just depends on what type of thriller interests you. If you crave a visceral moviegoing experience with a fair amount of gore and jump scares, then Green Room is for you. But if you prefer a more intimate, complex, psychological thriller, you’ll most likely be bored by the time you reach its third act.
P.S. – The final moment before the credits roll is the best part, and it actually serves as a small form of redemption for the generic story. That just needed to be put on record.
Green Room is in theaters now; check your local listings to find a theater near you!