3 out of 4 stars
Just when it appears it can’t get any worse for the “Ain’t Rights,” a punk band from the D.C. suburbs that’s running on fumes during its Northwest tour, the four rockers find themselves hunted by machete-wielding neo-Nazis and blood thirsty dogs inside a locked compound in the Oregon woods.
Suddenly, playing in front of scarce crowds for pennies is the least of the Ain’t Rights’ concerns in Green Room, writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s new white-knuckle horror-thriller that mixes gruesome killings with black humor that leaves the audience thinking: How is Patrick Stewart so good at being so bad?
Stewart, whose career has been defined by the visionary characters he’s played in Star Trek and X-Men, shows a sinister side as Darcy, the leader of a skinhead gang with a penchant for killing, even if it’s done by turning man’s best friend into man’s best weapon.
That’s not good for the Ain’t Rights – bassist Pat (an outstanding Anton Yelchin), singer Tiger (Callum Turner), guitarist Sam (Alia Shawkat) and drummer Reece (Joe Cole) – who take a last-minute gig playing in a backwoods house where they are welcomed with Confederate flags and swastikas. The Ain’t Rights’ music is much like the movie’s cinematography: loud, electric and in the audience’s face.
But just when it appears the Ain’t Rights will leave with all their limbs, Pat returns to the green room to retrieve his phone and finds a dead woman with a knife in her skull.
What happens next? Do you even need to ask? Stewart turns the roadhouse into a grindhouse, arms his skinheads and readies the dogs to make sure what happened in the green room stays in the green room by killing the band – and the dead girl’s friend, Amber, played wonderfully by Imogen Poots.
But “killing” isn’t the right word. Try slaughtering. Shooting somebody is one thing; having dogs rip out their throats is an entirely different level of brutality.
But that’s what makes the 95-minute carnival of carnage, in which Stewart is the undisputed ringmaster, so entertaining. You know the death count will increase and it’s hard to predict who will make it out alive and who will get hacked to pieces. Yelchin (Chekov from the recent Star Trek films) is easy to like, but it’s even easier to fall in love with Poots, who emerges as the film’s rock star.
Saulnier’s decision to use maniacal white supremacists as the bad guys is refreshing since any other choice could have made the movie feel like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” or “The Hills Have Eyes,” where the psychopaths were as much mutant as human. But in “Green Room” the skinheads’ look – black tattoos against pale skin – make them look more menacing, even though they are more into shooting heroin and dog fighting than racial extremism.
Green Room isn’t for the squeamish. But for those who appreciate horror films in which every detail is crafted into one big, bloody picture, it’s one room you’ll want to visit.
Jon Gallo is an award-winning journalist and editor with 19 years of experience, including stints as a staff writer at The Washington Post and sports editor at The Baltimore Examiner. He also believes the government should declare federal holidays in honor of the following: the Round of 64 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament; the Friday of the Sweet 16; the Monday after the Super Bowl; and of course, the day after the release of the latest Madden NFL video game.