In Green Room, Anton Yelchin stars as a member of a struggling punk band thrust into extraordinary circumstances when their gig at a white power bar goes south. And while the premise might seem simple, the film is a phenomenally tense experience buoyed by top notch performances; including those of Yelchin, Imogen Poots and Patrick Stewart.
As the film begins, Yelchin and his band — played by Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole and Callum Turner — are trying to recover from a string of set backs as their “tour” of the Pacific Northwest crumbles around them. A college DJ and would be promoter loses a gig for them, but manages to find them a new venue in the forest thanks to his cousin Daniel. The gig ends up being at a hidden bar favoring the boots and braces crowd owned by the fearsome Darcy Banker.
The gig is as awkward as anything else the band has encountered on the tour. But as stage manager Gabe tries to get them out of the bar, Yelchin happens upon a murder scene and the band ends up trapped in the green room and Darcy arrives on the scene to handle the situation personally.
In some ways, it is difficult to convey just how intense the film is. From the moment the band arrives at the gig until its final moments, the film never quite lets up. It gives brief moments of breathing room and the overall sense of dread lasts throughout. Which is remarkable as thrillers usually need more time for the audience to catch their breath. But in the superbly constructed screenplay by director Jeremy Saulnier, these moments usually serve to reveal more unsettling facts about Darcy and his operation. In fact, as they are the only insights into what he’s up to, we never get a full picture of him beyond hints and what Stewart brings to the role.
And Stewart is simply amazing as Darcy. He’s almost an Anti-Picard who speaks softly and remains composed and even caring — more so than even Picard — as he prepares to send people to their deaths. To Yelchin’s character, he is a disembodied voice trying his best to mitigate the fallout of a bad situation. To his subordinates, he is a logical and fair leader. But his cool appearance makes the malice all the more powerful as Darcy has no problem liquidating a dozen or so people or calling in the dogs to make sure his true purpose in the forest is never discovered by law enforcement. Even his white power leanings seem like a convenient means of controlling his men until he actually acknowledges his belief in the cause.
Meanwhile, in the green room, Yelchin’s bandmates find no relief as they are stuck with a dead body, a bouncer played by Eric Edelstein and the unsettling words of Imogen Poots as Amber. Poots is often the best thing in any movie she appears in and slowly steals the film from the others stuck in the green room. Even as lead singer Reece (Cole) reveals an ability to hold down a bouncer twice his size and Shawkat quips in the face of crisis, Poots slow reveal from quiet witness to capable fighter is marvelous to see.
In fact, the cast is uniformly top notch — from the bandmates, to a quick appearance by Brett Werner as the person actually responsible for the murder, to Mark Webber as the skinhead cousin who booked the band, but has his own secret motivations revealed as the film unfolds. Of special note is Macon Blair as Gabe the stage manager. Always trying his best to keep things as even-keeled as possible, his horror as events unravel is remarkable. It also leads to one of the more unexpected personal journeys in a film ostensibly about a standoff.
But that is part of the secret of Green Room. With its tight script, clear throughline and superb cast, it suggests a great deal of character inside a brief amount of screentime. Though the crisis and intensity are the backbone of the film, it also offers this rich interior world to consider long after the film has concluded. While it answers just about every question it asks, the film leaves you wondering how these people found themselves in such dire circumstances and what the survivors will do once they leave the forest. Director Saulnier has crafted a fine film that is not only a tense thriller as it happens, but a window into a lingering, memorable world.
Green Room opens Friday in limited release and opens wide on on April 29th.