Picture a crew of punk rock youths traveling from gig-to-gig on fumes. Syphoning gas and accepting food they have no hope of reheating as partial payment for an afternoon session at a restaurant. Imagine a gig they were counting on gets cancelled and they take another, from an unknown source to gain the gas money they need to get home. Now imagine that desperation gig turns out to be at a windowless compound of sorts where neo-Nazis gather to spew their hateful rhetoric. Imagine that Patrick Stewart is the cruel and calculating leader of this group — and he has a secret to keep.
That’s the situation in which the Ain’t Rights, a group with no such tendencies, find themselves in Green Room. The film ramps up from scenes of life on the road to taking the ill-fated gig that comes with a warning, “Don’t talk politics,” (and this from a guy who doesn’t know the half of it) to the truest punk inability to just let that attitude pass without comment, to an innocent mistake that gives the red-shoelaced thugs a reason to let their feelings out in rapid succession.
Like the greatest punk songs, the whole experience is fast and nasty and leaves you with a rush of adrenaline. The film manages to traffic in humor and even philosophy alongside the tension and terror that dominate the scene. Every bit of all of it is rooted in music. And though The Misfits and Black Flag and The Dead Kennedys and all those you would expect crop up, there are other musical influences as well, from any number of genres. Take, for instance, a nod to Prince, which earned appreciative reverence from the crowd at a press screening on the day of his passing.
As the band (whose members include Alia Shawkat and Anton Yelchin) and a fierce young woman (Imogen Poots) team in an effort to escape this most dire situation, we’re treated to tender, nuanced performances that aren’t often found in genre films. Amidst all the thrashing, Green Room finds space to let its characters breathe and expand. There are bittersweet moments of insight in which they (and we) can catch our breath and repose for a moment, before we’re slammed back into a mosh pit of fear and suspense, struggle and death.
Green Room is violent, occasionally shocking and relentlessly intense. If you’re a fan of existing in constant fear for a band of scrappy characters, you’ll be hard-pressed to have a better time at the movies than you will with Green Room.