The Ain't Rights are a four-piece punk band touring America, but even when they secure gigs, their funds are thin. They awaken in a field in their van this morning, where it has come to rest after the driver fell asleep at the wheel; not only that, but they have run out of fuel thanks to the engine left running all night. They decide their best course of action is to get some more, so Pat (Anton Yelchin) and Sam (Alia Shawkat) head off to the nearest car park to siphon enough to get them going again, and after they have their transport active they head to their next destination, where they have an interview with a music journalist. Following this, he points them in the direction of a new gig, warning the band that their audience may be on the extreme side...
They don't know the half of it, as they were informed the crowd would be skinheads so radically left wing that they are indistinguishable from neo-Nazis - the band's choice of opening song Nazi Punks Fuck Off may not be the best idea, and gets them a few glares, but the rest of the set goes pretty well, and they are just about to leave after getting paid when Sam remembers she has left her phone in the green room, and Pat goes back for it. He wasn't to know that was a bad idea, was he? This simple act lands the band in a facsimile John Carpenter movie, as many characters in the twenty-tens would, in this case Assault on Precinct 13, which itself was a combination of Rio Bravo and Night of the Living Dead in a police station.
Director Jeremy Saulnier was one of that generation of filmmakers happy to pay tribute to those formative movie experiences by putting their own spin on them, and he was rewarded with much praise for crafting a thriller that was informed by the horrors of the seventies and eighties as much as it was less fantastically-themed shocker cinema, the slasher craze of decades before making its presence felt, something else Carpenter had popularised. If you did not mind watching projects so much in debt to the past, then a lot of these were very accomplished indeed, and Green Room could take its place among the better of them, adopting a basic plotline and adding twists and variations that may not be revolutionary, but did satisfy.
It was just that the director obviously felt there were certain rules he had to abide by, and he wasn't going to stray too far from the conventions that had proven so reliable before. With that in mind, that if you had an idea what was coming simply because you knew what was being referenced or at least what the influences were, you would either be less than impressed since you had seen it all elsewhere, or you appreciated what was some very fine variations on those themes assisted greatly by particularly naturalistic acting. Of course one had to highlight Yelchin, as this film was brought to a wider release around the time of his death, and watching what happened to his Pat character truly hit home in a manner that it may not have done should he not have been killed in a tragic accident, his fictional pain all the more disturbing.
Though its purpose was to ramp up the tension, Saulnier's depiction of violence was closer to sickening than exciting, he was taking the bloodletting very seriously which rendered Green Room a lot more grave than it would have been if it had hewed more to cartoonish. The head bad guy was played with a menacing stillness by Patrick Stewart, orchestrating his extremist army to work out how to wipe out The Ain't Rights and one of his turncoat brood, Amber (Imogen Poots in an excellent, unpredictable portrayal) now they know there has been a murder on the club premises. They lock themselves in the green room of the title and ponder their next move, gradually realising just how much danger they are in, creating one of those siege thrillers with some effectiveness as both sides, a small gang against a far larger one, if you like, try to outmanoeuvre the other. There was a sleek, pared down quality here that underlined a ruthless efficiency to how the film went about its business, and barely a moment of humour in the whole thing until the very last line, a great coda on the horrible pointlessness of the violence that had preceded it. Music by Brooke Blair and Will Blair.