Green Room sacrifices suspense for gore — and that's a shame
The new movie Green Room has promise for several reasons, one of the biggest being its writer/director, Jeremy Saulnier, who made a big impact with his 2013 movie Blue Ruin. There’s also the chance to see Patrick Stewart, so noble as Captain Jean-Luc Picard or Professor X, play against type as the leader of a neo-Nazi group.
But promise and results don't always match up, as is the case here. A hard rock group called the Ain’t Rights, led by Pat (Anton Yelchin) and Sam (Alia Shawkat), are trying to tour on a shoestring budget. Their lack of funds leads them into some sketchy situations, including a gig at the backwoods club populated by said neo-Nazis.
In fact, there are so many possible bad things that can happen to the band that Saulnier has you on edge way before the really bad thing happens in the eponymous green room at the club. Once it does, the four members of the group, plus another girl (Imogen Poots) who gets caught up in the turmoil, must defend themselves at all costs against the bad intentions of the neo-Nazis.
The setup is greatly intriguing, because of the way certain characters, who would be clichés in lesser movies, are played in a more even-keeled way here. The film as a whole mimics this quieter, less overtly menacing tone, a technique that works for a while.
But what at first appears to be a slow-burning, suspenseful story turns into a more straightforward violent one where the only question is not if anybody will survive, but how our protagonists will win out in the end. It’s a subtle difference, but because Saulnier trades suspense for action, the film winds up being more grindhouse than thriller, a trade-off that does the story no favors.
That’s not to say that there aren’t at least a couple of things to like about the film. Stewart’s performance is as good as advertised, although it would have been nice if he had gotten to chew the scenery at least once. One of the better performances comes courtesy of Macon Blair, playing a neo-Nazi lieutenant. Having appeared in all of Saulnier’s films, including his two short films, the actor and his director obviously have a rapport that allows for Blair to shine.
And despite the grindhouse tendencies, the graphic violence actually serves a purpose, something that can’t be said of other recent gory movies. You may have your stomach turned by some of the bloody shots, but Saulnier knows the difference between being exploitative and not.
However, the movie’s pluses are in a constant fight with its minuses. Green Room had potential to be a stellar outing for both Saulnier and his actors, but it falls short of that potential due to some questionable storytelling choices.