My thoughts on Green Room is that after watching it once, I believe that I’ve seen all that the film has to offer on a thematic level. Jeremy Saulnier—who directed and wrote the film—doesn’t really seem to be interested in exploring a nuanced story or character(s) so much as he is focused on creating a stylistic film. That’s not to say style and nuance are mutually exclusive, but I see Green Room as certainly existing on the one extreme of style. In Green Room, that style is the focus on the gradual build-up of tension and then, an extremely visceral release. Saulnier reflects the tension in the film with deliberately slow camera movement and so he teases his audience and increases their anxiety over the events onscreen.
The violence itself isn’t all that big of a deal. It’s bloody for sure, but there’s never really a focus on the acts of violence themselves. The tension builds up, and then climaxes bloodily but these climaxes are short and moved on from quickly. Saulnier’s technique here reminds me of Ridley Scott’s in Alien (1979), another horror film where the act of scaring the audience via the build-up of tension is more important than attempting to scare them through grotesque killings and so the murders are merely hinted at in order to get back to what matters: the tension. Like Alien, Green Room also has an extreme attention to visual detail. In order to better explain this visual detail, I’ll first give a brief summary of the film for context.
Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole), and Tiger (Callum Turner) are the four members of a punk band called “The Ain’t Rights.” The Ain’t Rights are so poor that they steal gas by siphoning it from other cars, and in a desperate attempt for money, even agree to take one last gig at a neo-Nazi skinhead bar out in the middle of nowhere. While the initial reception is cold, because they decide to open with a cover of the Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” the gig goes without a hitch—until the end that is. As the group prepares to leave the venue, Pat goes back into the green room to retrieve Sam’s phone which she left behind but to his horror he discovers the scene of a murder. The group’s attempt to flee is quickly stifled, and in an act of defense, they lock themselves in the green room. With only one way out, it becomes a fight for survival for the Ain’t Rights who are wanted dead by their captors.
Sean Porter serves as the director of photography, and in bringing out the horror aesthetic of Green Room, Porter applies a green-tint to the inside of the venue consequently giving it a grim, industrial and hopeless look. The walls are plastered in various punk-like phrases and other Nazi graffiti. The fashion too is also detailed; Pat sports a “Minor Threat” t-shirt, Tiger has short cropped blue hair, and the skinheads wear the signature Doc Marten/Bomber jacket combo that has come to define the aesthetic of their movement. There’s no denying then, that Green Room has visual flair, and there’s a seemingly innocuous conversation early on that I think helps to explain why the film does.
Early on, the group is interviewed for a college radio, and one of the questions they’re asked is why the group lacks an online presence. As we learn, The Ain’t Rights don’t use any social media at all. The reason why, the band gives, is because the movement from analog to digital hurts music. There’s an inexplicable feeling that’s lost, and that feeling is one that could only be felt when one’s physical presence to the music is close. In short, The Ain’t Rights feel that the best way to listen to their music is in concert—you just have to be there.
I’d argue then, that the detail to Green Room’s visuals make its cinematic world come to life. The success in bringing out the look of punks and Nazis alike allow the audience to inhabit the world of Green Room because it’s constructed so well. That increase in immersion, however, also means that the audience is also much more susceptible to the fear that arises with Saulnier’s techniques in using tension.
As I stated earlier, while Green Room does boast plenty of style, it’s more of an exercise in technique rather than anything else. The unfortunate downside to this is that the script leaves much for wanting. Saulnier plays his cards too quickly early on and removes any sense of unpredictability to the story, an element that I think is key for a horror film. If we know what to expect, the events on-screen are that much less frightful and tense. It’s the equivalent of walking through a haunted house while knowing where everything is.
Green Room certainly has more than enough potential to establish itself as a cult-film, and I think this is one of the better outcomes for the film’s reception. Due to Saulnier’s focus on style, I can see a future where Green Room is highly influential on B-movies that also pursue similar goals. It’s for this reason that despite being on the shallow side, I think Green Room is worth watching because of what it offers as a cinematic teaching experience.