Strange things happen when you’re in a band.
When Ozzy Ozborne was on tour with Mötley Crüe, he snorted a line of live ants when he wasn’t able to find cocaine. Marilyn Manson caused $25,000 in damage to a hotel when his band instigated a massive food fight that resulted in the carpet catching on fire. And after being banned from the Edgewater Hotel in Seattle, Led Zeppelin snuck back in using aliases and tossed five televisions into the waters of Puget Sound.
I’m in a band called Killer Workout that’s named after the 1987 horror movie. We’ve been on two West Coast tours, performed during SXSW, and we’ve played regularly at venues in the Pacific Northwest for more than half a decade. And we’ve had our fair share of sticky situations because here’s the thing that most musicians won’t tell you: 90% of being in a band is just sitting around waiting to play music. You drive to the venue hours beforehand, you go through a 30-minute (or longer) soundcheck, and then you wait around for hours more until it’s your time to perform. You get bored. You get drunk. You start talking to the locals. One thing leads to another, and before you know it, you’re in a serious world of trouble.
In Green Room (2016), a down-on-their-luck punk band gives the word “trouble” a whole new meaning. After witnessing a murder at a neo-Nazi skinhead venue in the woods outside Portland, they suddenly find themselves in an epic cat-and-mouse fight for their lives. I don’t want to give too much of Green Room’s plot away since its genre-subverting twists and turns carry much of the film’s impact, but I will say that it’s a violent, graphic, and claustrophobic 95-minute experience that will give you second thoughts about ever joining a band.
“Environment is very key to how I develop stories,” said Green Room writer and director Jeremy Saulnier. “Having been in a punk band and falling in love with the aesthetic and the energy and the music, I’ve been at lots of concert venues. I thought it would be really cool to capture that energy. What better place than a venue to set a siege thriller than the green room? It was my obsession.”
Saulnier’s writing and direction are top-notch in Green Room. The writing is both poetic and terse; the camera work is elegant but intentional. It’s a unique balancing act that Saulnier deftly handles. If you have not seen his previous film Blue Ruin from 2013—which also demonstrates this balancing act—I would add that to your watchlist too.
Green Room stars Anton Yelchin in one of his final film roles, Imogen Poots, and a scene-stealing Patrick Stewart. Yelchin carries most of the film solely on his shoulders and he does a handsome job, but Stewart plays against type and delivers a riveting performance as skinhead bar owner Darcy Banker that I consider one of the best horror movie baddies of all time.
“I was fascinated to find that the heartland of such a movement was in fact the Pacific Northwest, which traditionally I had always associated with a very liberal, very open, kind of socially-minded part of the United States,” said Stewart. “That these groups existed there was very surprising, which is what made me very interested in the recent incidents that have been happening there of the people who took over this area of land and basically created a separate sort of nation out of it. So that was very valuable.”
I would like to warn the squeamish that there are two extremely graphic special effect sequences involving a machete and a box cutter. I’m a horror movie buff who can sit through just about anything without batting an eye and Green Room made me lurch out of my seat.