Green Room **½|****

Anton Yelchin and Alia Shawkat in Green Room
Anton Yelchin and Alia Shawkat in Green Room

Green Room chronicles fictional hardcore punk band The Ain’t Rights as they tour the Pacific Northwest from one grungy club to another, siphoning gas and scrounging cheap food along the way. Out of desperation for cash, they reluctantly take a gig at a neo-Nazi bar but when their bassist Pat (Anton Yelchin) is accidentally witness to a brutal murder, a group of panicked bouncers forces him and his bandmates (Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner) into the green room along with the recently deceased body. A tense game of cat-and-mouse ensues when the band members lock themselves in the room and the bar’s owner Darcy (Patrick Stewart) attempts to negotiate with them on the other side of the locked door.

This is the third feature from writer/director Jeremy Saulnier and as a follow-up to his unexpected and brilliant revenge tale Blue Ruin, this feels a bit more unfocused and capricious by comparison. We’re surrounded by seemingly smart characters who may have interesting bits of dialogue or inspired moments during the setup but when the plot kicks into gear, they turn into the kind of dumb decision-makers that have plagued lesser horror movies in the past. The stand-off in the titular location obviously has the highest potential for sustained tension but once things progress from there, Saulnier becomes much more interested than blood over brains.

These characters aren’t defined by their own words as much as they are by their actions and the visceral moments of chaos that erupt perhaps speak louder than any bits of expository dialogue ever could. The violence of Green Room is amply gory and often sadistic but also messy and sometimes awkward in a way that tends to make it both believable and unpredictable at the same time. There’s almost a casual and unassuming nature to the brutality and some of the killings are downright uncinematic in the way that they dismiss traditional horror death beats of setup and payoff, which should delight fans looking for something different in the genre.

The casting choice of Patrick Stewart as the leader of the skinheads is unquestionably an inspired one and while his performance is certainly convincing, the script doesn’t give him the kind of authoritative dialogue that could have established him as an intelligent, menacing threat. When the character is first introduced, I was hoping his presence would inspire a wordier kind of standoff negotiation between himself and the band that would allow him to assert his intellect into the situation. Instead, he barks orders at his goons and speaks in the kind of shorthand that almost seems deliberate in its ability to shake off an attentive audience.

In addition to Stewart, the rest of the cast does a fine job of keeping their characters grounded in a situation that is constantly spiraling out of their control. The film’s guiding performance by the late young talent Anton Yelchin is sobering in retrospect and a dispiriting reminder of how many of his future films we’ll sadly never get to see. With its punk rock ethos and aberrant violence, Green Room has all the marks of a B-movie classic but it too often gets in its own way with artistic touches that mix up the message.