There’s a point early in Green Room where our protagonists, a hand-to-mouth struggling punk band, the Ain’t Rights, think they’ve found a back-door out of the room in the club full of homicidal Nazis that they’re trapped in. After struggling to open it up; the main character, Pat (Anton Yelchin) almost loses an arm within the time, the light at the end of the tunnel turns out to be just another fluorescent. That is Green Room in a nutshell. It’s a movie where nothing comes easy, there is no progress without sacrifice, and our heroes are scared, unprepared, outnumbered, outgunned, squishy little kids.
Green Room is a film about desperation. The Ain’t Rights are a punk band from DC desperate for a gig on the other side of the country, and they’re reduced to siphoning gas just to make it to the only legit gig on their west-coast tour – which is at a Nazi club in Middle-of-Nowhere, Pacific Northwest. After performing their set (kicked off by a cover of The Dead Kennedy’s Nazi Punks Fuck Off), the band witnesses a murder and are trapped in the club’s Green Room by a gang of Nazis looking to eliminate the crime’s only witnesses. After managing to grab the gun from the one guard in the room with them, the Green Room turns from a prison into a fortress, and the band realizes their only way out is back the way they came, which means somehow fighting through a gang of Nazi’s armed with guns, machetes, and man-eating dogs.
From there the film ping-pongs between a horror film and a war film, as our trapped-behind-enemy-lines heroes try repeatedly to escape the club only to be driven back into the Green Room by the Nazis. Green Room is violent, exceedingly and graphically so, but never gratuitously. Arms get lacerated by machetes, faces get blown off by shotguns, throats gouged by dogs, and stomachs cut open by box-cutters; and while shocking to be sure; the real point of the violence is to remind you how fragile these people are. The gore serves as the film’s punctuation, with each death or injury signaling a new step in the plot, a door shutting behind our heroes, blood sacrificed for progress made.
And Green Room makes us wince and look away at every drop spilled because its characters are so incredibly human. The band’s soft spoken, indecisive, and least physically able member, Pat (Anton Yelchin), becomes the de-facto leader early in the film when he’s chosen to negotiate their release; and after suffering the film’s most grotesque sequence, reduced to the broken, blubbery mess that we’d all be if put in the same situation.
Opposite him is Patrick Stewart’s Darcy, the leader of this group of Nazis. Where Pat is frightened and grasping at straws; Darcy is never not operating from a position of power. He’s articulate, charismatic and calculating. He goes from feigning diplomacy to ordering clean kills in the same calm, almost grandfatherly tone.
Even the other Nazis, while never portrayed as sympathetic, are treated as human beings. Imogen Poots’ Amber, the only other witness to the murder, also trapped with the band, is shown to be confused and misguided, but also the exact sort of sociopath who would become a Nazi. Gabe, played by Macon Blair, is hopelessly put-upon by the bigger, meaner Nazis, and becomes a strange sort of pitiable. And in ways, this makes them all the scarier. The film tells us that yes, Nazis are still technically people, and that these are humans choosing to commit atrocious acts of inhumanity.
Green Room’s game of cat-and-mouse (maus?) is masterfully constructed, playing with the audience’s tension and suspense just as effectively as its characters’. After some early lessons, you learn never to breathe that satisfying sigh of relief too soon unless you immediately want to catch it like a head catches a bullet. While you’ll never forget how vulnerable these characters are, every death or intense act of violence still remains a sucker punch. You begin to anticipate something around every corner without managing to ever completely expect what it could really be. And as the Green Room itself becomes less and less sturdy a safe-room over the course of the movie, the only real break in the tension comes only right before the credits roll.
Green Room is a hard movie, it’s a violent movie, it’s a desperate movie, and overall, it’s a punk movie. It’s bold-faced about its violence and noise. Its nuance doesn’t lie in what might happen, but how big and loud the thing that definitely will happen will eventually hit you. And by the end, it says: when you’re scared and trapped by insurmountable odds, sometimes the only thing left to do is to run right towards it, kicking and screaming, bloodied and fighting, until you make it out through the front door.