Jeremy Saulnier’s “Green Room” centers on a punk band called The Ain’t Rights. They do not seem exactly popular. As the film opens, they are at the end of a cross-country tour that is not going well. The gig in Seattle that was supposed to be lined up for them gets downgraded to barely-a-gig-at-all. They have to siphon (steal) gas to keep their tour van going. Onstage they seem in their element, at least, but offstage this band, comprised of fairly young members, does not come across as brutish as their music might suggest. Take Pat (Anton Yelchin), the bassist, who evokes a jangle of nerves. Their genre might be Hardcore, but they are not, and as such, “Green Room” becomes an intense, urgent and gory attempt by The Ain’t Rights to earn their stripes.
The movie is like if you took “10 Cloverfield Lane”, did away with all the deliberate misdirection and fused it with the last half-hour of “28 Hours Later”, turning the demented soldiers into neo-Nazis. This happens because The Ain’t Rights are enlisted to play some white power punk rock club in the backwoods of Oregon where the band members see a murdered body they are not supposed to see in the green room and lock themselves in, along with Amber (Imogen Poots), the dead girl’s bestie, knowing that if they open the door the surly thrashers and headbangers that just watched them play will murder the whole band in cold blood.
The bad guys might be neo-Nazis but their political leanings seem of less importance than the ferocity this categorical assignment allows them. The chief villain, owner of the club, overseer of the skinheads, Darcy Banker, is played by a game Patrick Stewart with a wearily amused countenance. When he intones about some racial class and declares “It’s a movement, not a party” you can almost hear Stewart’s lips twist into a wry grin. He’s not actually here to play a guy spurring a movement; he’s here to play a guy throwing a party, a blood guts and party, bring you own blades and try to chop up the kids in the green room. Have fun!
That’s not to suggest “Green Room” completely abandons any sense of emotional depth. It’s remarkable how little human moments pop up in the most random of places, whether it’s the movingly bonkers bond that necessarily develops between Pat and Amber or the bouncer Gabe, played by Macon Blair, cast MVP. If the people in the green room are trapped, so is Blair’s Gabe, which Blair economically communicates in his attitude and mannerisms, which always seem tinged with just the slightest reluctance, like he knows once he signed himself over to this way of life it could not be rescinded. Even the guy (Mark Webber) who sicks vicious attack dogs on The Ain’t Rights is afforded a genuine lovingness for his canines.
Beyond that, though, “Green Room” is strictly about the thrill of the fight. The order in which characters are dispatched is conspicuously matched with the order of names on the marquee, but there is still a palpable suspense generated in the movie’s furious pace and how it builds to an unavoidable showdown. One of the more intriguing elements of Saulnier’s screenplay is its refusal on brokering a neat escape. Though the band rips up the floorboards, all they find is a heroin lab. Though they notice an air duct, there will be no crawling through it to convenient safety on the other side. No, the only way out is to go through, and the only way to go through is to summon a kind of gonzo You Can’t Stop Us! furor. And in that furor, maybe, just maybe, they can earn the right to call themselves Hardcore.