Green Room  is a horror-thriller film written and directed Jeremy Saulnier. It follows a punk rock band that witnesses a murder and then has to survive the attacks from a group of neo-Nazi skinheads.
Not A Minor Threat. Vampires, thrill-killers, ghosts, zombies, supernatural entities, demons and things that go bump in the night. These are largely the inhabitants of the horror genre, which all have lead to the creations of their own sub-genres, styles, influences, revivals, successes, and failures. Horror is a special genre because it has amassed a fan base that is dedicated and knowledgeable and appreciative of what the genre can do in the right hands. The horror genre is also interesting because while the photography, the music, the acting, the practical effects, and the story can all be good, it still has to be scary. So when going into Green Room, you may be inclined to think it isn’t a “horror movie” the same way that The Exorcist, Suspiria, or The Babadook is. But when movies are stripped down, we’re left with the intent of the genre. Green Room stands out in this regard because it does function on multiple levels inside of the genres it is considered to be a part of. It rises up to the standards of both a horror and a thriller effortlessly. With high-intensity violence, realistic (and if not realistic then at least disturbing) practical effects and a constant threat of death, the lingering darkness throughout the film easily places it in the horror category. With the odds considerably against our protagonists, each tiny advancement feels like a massive victory. It creates a tension that is palpable. The film digs its claw into your back and takes you for a ride, standing strong in the thriller genre. The promise of an exciting and shocking story might be enough to put you in the seat, but it’s how the film manages to elevate these elements to new heights that will keep you there. Or at least on the edge of it.
The Ain’t Rights, But Not Wrongs. Too often, a major downfall of the horror genre is its inability to create memorable characters that people care about. It’s a genre where the monsters and villains get the love and attention, not their victims. Green Room doesn’t solve this issue, but it clearly makes an effort. Our lead characters are in a punk band, famously off-the-grid, that are trying to wrap up a tour. They take a gig that ends up being in a neo-Nazi skinhead bar, and the movie’s story opens up from there. Something the film does very well is taking the time to set up information in a way that feels organic and unassuming. The reincorporated elements that come later don’t feel obvious or contrived, but rather fit in relation to the characters, their lifestyle and the events that unfold. The actions people make aren’t logic-defying (no girls running in high heels up the stairs instead of out the front door). You can understand what is happening and agree with decisions made, even if they work horrendously against the band’s favor. But this is how the film ultimately builds the tension: we know the score the whole way and we know what’s at stake. It’s such a relatable sequence of events, even if you’re not in a touring punk band. It’s bad luck that leads to a situation that we could all at least imagine ourselves getting in. Have you ever walked into a room when you weren’t supposed to? Have you ever left your phone behind and remembered just in time? Green Room very brilliantly shows an escalation of events, how people react to them, and how unfair and cruel circumstances and people can really be.
Nazi Punks… Once the film establishes the characters, where they are going and why the conflict begins at an alarming pace. That isn’t to say the film rushes. The pacing is exceptionally well balanced between bursts of violence and small moments of pause. The film doesn’t needlessly build up characters, events or locations. It helps to create several moments of genuine shock and surprise that are too good to ever be spoiled. The breaks in the conflict function not only for the characters to regroup and plan out their next move but also for the audience to absorb and reflect on what has happened. Additionally, the breaks also provide a chance to advance the narrative and develop the story. The film has an unexpected level of depth to it. It’s refreshing to see a film so perfectly utilize the location, the characters and the natural progression of its own structure in a way that fleshes out the overall presentation in a convincing way. It’s a short movie, with limited characters and a simple story, but it’s absolutely complete and flawlessly assembled.
Encore! The film shines thanks to great writing, but there is plenty to love. The writing is simply the platform for everything to stand on and grow from. The cast makes the most of their terror and anxiety and sells their performances well. They’re likable and you’ll probably want to see more of them as the film moves forward. The movie isn’t entirely dread and gloom either; it has its own brand of humor sprinkled throughout and it blends in with the carnage surrounding it. The editing is at times clever and the photography is exactly what it needs to be; it doesn't reinvent the wheel but it doesn’t distract either. Green Room delivers in the most satisfying way a movie can: it exceeds expectations. It’s thrilling, it’s horrifying and it’s a blast to experience. Director Jeremy Saulnier showed great promise with Blue Ruin, and Green Room proves that he’s a talent that people should be paying attention to.
Green Room is a near flawless thriller that delivers some laughs, a lot of terror, and some of the heaviest doses of tension you’ll experience in a theater.
Related: Looking for movies of equal caliber?
Click here to see which movies received a Perfect Score from Borrowing Tape.
Green Room is featured on Borrowing Tape's Best Films of 2015 list.