Green Room does so much with such a minimal plot and short runtime. Saulnier’s script is so tight and packed with depth that he makes it look easy. One of the most basic instances of this is the name of the band we’re following—The Ain’t Rights. Such a subtle detail that only really resonates when the nazi venue rebrands them as The Aren’t Rights, which I take as a specifically political action: they “aren’t right,” as in correct, as far as the fascists are concerned. The response to their first song (a cover of the Dead Kennedys “Nazi Punks Fuck Off!”) further underlines this political divide between band and crowd / hosts.
All of the acting in this film astounds me, but the standout performances are clearly the leads: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, and Patrick Stewart. Yelchin and Poots had worked together on a few films, and given their performances in Green Room, I’ll be seeking those out over the coming weeks. Two of my favorite scenes in the movie featured Imogen Poots being goddamn awesome.
As regards the casting of Patrick Stewart as the leader of this neo-nazi movement, this just so perfectly subverts our perception of him so perfectly. He’s known for playing leaders—Professor X, Captain Picard—and so switching his foundational goodness for a general antagonism towards humanity really puts on display the essential charisma that all leaders utilize, for better or worse. He’s certainly not a sympathetic character or someone the audience likes—for Christ’s sake, he’s a nazi. But, his interactions with strangers and the band are so cordial and calm with the out of town band that we almost want to believe him, and at least can understand why the band may. That juxtaposed with the way he treats his followers and his inner circle really demonstrates how fascist organizers operate. To observers, they present as reasonable, friendly, charismatic, but once they’ve gained your acceptance, they reveal themselves as the scum they are. All of this is clear to us as we the audience are consistently privy to his interactions on both sides of this conflict.
Even the language Darcy (Stewart) uses with the crowd when he’s asking them to leave the venue conceals his motivations, calling an upcoming event the “racial advocacy seminar” and reminding the crowd, “this is a movement, not a party” (party functioning both in the sense of a social gathering and a political faction). These subtleties as well as Darcy’s seemingly welcoming / friendly nature are exactly the kinds of tactics fascists use to recruit: creating a community for those who lack one or who otherwise perceive themselves as victims (which is absolutely ludicrous, but so it goes: the white oppression complex is real).
As an aging punk, I have to say that I do love this band. Not just their music, though that is also fun and fitting to their aesthetic, but their philosophy and lifestyle. Green Room doesn’t romanticize the way they live, but it doesn’t condemn it either: it just is. They siphon gas when they have to, they eat leftovers, they crash on strangers couches—in a very real way they’re traveling punks. The intensity of their commitment to punk rock comes through in their interview with Tad. “Digital music loses its texture.” Unfortunately for them, an online personality could’ve proved advantageous, given their predicament. Had their presence at Darcy’s club been widely known, they may have had an easier time escaping, because the nazis wouldn’t have seen such an easy way to dispose of them.
Hierarchical organizing really is centered in the approach taken on both sides, the fascists and the band (who may be anarchists? Tiger, the singer, has a circle A tattoo, but that’s also something that’s been co-opted by punk culture and has more or less been rendered meaningless / divorced from its actual roots). Everyone follows Darcy’s lead, there’s a clear order of command when it comes to actions and plans laid by the nazis. In contrast, all the courses of action the band takes are much more communally agreed upon and acted out. They’re a much more collaborative group. This
I can’t get over how this movie came out in 2015. Nazism in America is certainly nothing new, but at that time wasn’t nearly as mainstreamed and common knowledge as it is now. I remember in high school, circa 2004, having an anti-fascist patch that another student made fun of me for: “oh yeah all those fascists that you see around nowadays.” This movie came out a few years before the now infamous Charlottesville rally, so watching it now draws fewer and fewer detractors on the grounds of it being unrealistic or nazis being a non-problem.
In an interview, Jeremy Saulnier talked about representing the effects of violence as realistically as possible, and my goodness does he do this with Green Room. There’s only a few instances of serious gore, but the effects are so visceral and gritty that the images will not leave your mind’s eye any time soon. This aspect of the movie really pushes it into the horror genre for me.
I think some people may shy away from calling it a straight forward horror movie, but for me there’s little doubt about it. It’s consistently tense and suspenseful, and there are some intensely scary moments (beyond just the horrifying violence), for example all the times that the band ventures out into the unknown of the venue. At the very end, Anton Yelchin’s character tells Darcy, “you were so scary at night.” Horror in real life does exist, but it’s more to do with what we imagine, rather than what we see. Hitherto, he’d only heard Darcy’s voice and seen him as obscured by a vent or the door, or surrounded by his goons.
Overall, as you can tell, this movie is absolutely incredible. I cannot recommend it enough. It’s scary, intelligent, confrontational, and wildly realistic—a real triumph of cinema.