The following assumes you have seen the movie. Major spoilers ahead. Green Room is not a bad movie, and for the record, this is not an attempt to be contrarian just to garner attention. As with The Witch, which this viewer prefers, it is a reminder that sometimes expectations are unrealistic and after many months of anticipation nothing can possibly be as good as the movie you have been imagining.
There is much to admire in Green Room. Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier does a masterful job establishing an ominous mood and it becomes almost unbearably tense as soon as the Ain’t Rights are trapped in a small space with a dead body and an enormous skinhead. It’s abundantly clear that they are in serious trouble and likely to never make it out of the bar alive. The only questions are how long do they have to live and how will they die.
When the carnage begins you feel the hurt. The violence is swift, brutal, and often cringe-inducing, but it doesn’t feel cheap or sensationalist. The gore effects are outstanding as well, with the dog attacks standing out as particularly vicious and cruel. It’s also fun to watch the band get creative as they desperately try to stay alive, debating the best course of action and finding whatever weapons they can. When they fight back there’s some serious anguish as you see their fear and hope and desperation.
The first time a real problem with the narrative appears is near the end. Pat (Anton Yelchin) and Amber (Imogen Poots) have finally made it out of the bar alive. Both are badly injured and completely exhausted, but they are close to safety. So what do they do? Exactly what dumb characters in horror movies do, as opposed to what someone would actually do. They go to Darcy’s (Patrick Stewart) house. Suddenly Pat, who couldn’t handle a gun minutes earlier, is a cold-blooded killer out for revenge.
It’s at this point that another problem surfaces. Dumb character moves notwithstanding, we should be on the edge of our seats as Pat and Amber arrive on Darcy’s property. They are going to do battle with the skinhead leader, the movie’s big baddie. But I felt nothing. I realized that I didn’t really care if Pat and Amber survived or if Darcy died. Every character is paper thin. The band is defined by their choice of desert island music. Amber is mad because her friend was murdered. There’s nothing else to any of them. Well-executed violence doesn’t mean you care about a character’s fate. By the time they kill Darcy the suspense is long gone.
When you have skinheads as villains, there’s a shorthand involved. You don’t need to develop their evil nature. We know they are evil because they are skinheads. That can make for lazy writing. I expected Darcy to be a villain for the ages, but he’s not. Stewart isn’t given much to do, save for delivering orders a few times. That’s true for all of the skinheads. Why even make the villains skinheads? That’s one of many questions I was left with. They are fully prepared to handle the aftermath of multiple murders, so does that happen often? Why? How do they get away with that? Why do the police leave so quickly when someone has been badly stabbed? Aren’t they familiar with this bar and these people?
Saulnier is an extraordinarily talented director and I eagerly anticipate whatever he does next. But after all of the hype and my own sky-high expectations, I walked out of Green Room feeling disappointed. I wish I loved it as much as everyone else seems to, but in the end I wanted much more out of it than I got. It takes more than effective bloodshed for a movie to be really great, and this one doesn’t have much else going for it.