As a teenager I submerged myself in the local music scene and visited my fair share of dives over the years (that's bound to happen to anyone growing up in Stoke-on-Trent) but none of those venues come close to the horrors that await the fictional punk rock band 'The Ain't Rights' in the Green Room of a questionable bar deep in the backwoods of Oregon. Faced with ending their self-financed tour of small venues and siphoning petrol to fuel their journey home or playing one more gig to make ends meet, the band plump for the gig, which unwittingly puts them in the hands of a very dangerous Neo-Nazi movement. After provoking the crowd with a risky opener The Ain't Rights knuckle down for the rest of their set hoping that their steadfast attitudes and tight performances see them through. It is only when the time comes to collect their gear backstage that they encounter an ugly situation and things go south faster than a Mohawk caught in the rain.
This simple yet effective premise sees the start of a stand-off between the punk group and a legion of skinheads helmed by Darcy (Patrick Stewart), whose fiercely commanding presence comes close to stealing the show despite his limited screen time. Macon Blair returns for his third collaboration with Saulnier and delivers an understated performance as Darcy's right-hand man, providing smatterings of comic relief when you least expect it as he attempts to rectify the mistakes made by their subordinates.
When The Ain't Rights tool up to fight back all hell breaks loose and it is Anton Yelchin's reluctant guitarist, Pat, whose leadership qualities are called into action. Imogen Poots, who starred alongside Yelchin in 2011's disappointing remake of Fright Night, also comes into her own as Amber, an alluring insider who witnessed the event that kick-starts the tension. She doesn't shy away from acts of violence, bolstering the band in their desperate hour of need and providing them with valuable insight into the workings of the bar and its denizens. There is a clear chemistry between Pat and Amber, and this kindles the audiences interest in their survival as they work together with the rest of the band to escape the Green Room, despite the odds being stacked against them.
For a film chock full of exciting characters each is given enough time to develop a memorable persona and all appear with distinctive styles for the audience to easily identify them amongst the action. Neither aggressors or the victims are faceless, and this adds to the impact when blood and sweat permeates the atmosphere as the volatile skinheads clash with the desperate punks.
Amongst all the wanton carnage there are moments of almost serene tranquillity; stirring slow motion shots of The Ain't Rights and the pulsating crowd conjure up memories of watching your favourite local bands, an aerial shot of their ramshackle touring van lost in a corn field is a visual treat to behold, and the simplest action of lighting a cigarette adds clarity and beauty to the darkest of moments. By allowing his characters the occasional chance to breathe and take stock of their situation, Saulnier provides the audience with brief respites from the action and skilfully does so in a way that demonstrates his flair for visual aesthetics alongside his penchant for grisly fight scenes. This combination elevates what could have been a low-brow grindhouse flick into a credible and utterly captivating thriller, and should hopefully catapult the director and his team on to bigger and better things.
In short, Green Room is an absolute riot. You will be hard pushed to find another thrill ride brimming with as much potent energy as is on show here, but if you do then point me in its direction immediately.