*** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Jeremy Saulnier
STARS Anton Yelchin, Patrick Stewart
Callum Turner, Anton Yelchin and Alia Shawcat in Green Room (Photo: A24)
Red-meat catharsis for Blue State moviegoers, Green Room demonstrates what happens when a group of alternative punk rockers are forced to mix it up with right-wing skinheads whose taste in décor leans toward swastikas and Confederate flags. Short on depth but long on visceral thrills, it's Old Testament moviemaking, with the adage about an eye for an eye expanding to also include arms, legs, torsos and, once killer dogs are introduced, even jugulars.
Desperately low on cash, the members of the East Coast band The Ain't Rights — Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawcat), Reece (Joe Cole) and Tiger (Callum Turner) — find themselves stranded on the other side of the continent and accept a last-minute booking at a dilapidated backwoods club in the hopes of raising some gas money. The clientele, comprised of bigoted bruisers who would just as soon eat a kitten as pet one, aren't exactly the target audience for The Ain't Rights, but, hey, a gig's a gig. But as the band is leaving the venue following the performance, one member spots a murder in progress — one being committed by club employees — and suddenly, no one is allowed off the premises. Darcy Banker (Patrick Stewart), the dapper yet despicable club owner, is summoned to issue the obvious directive: Kill every last band member, and also add Amber (Imogen Poots), the victim's best friend, to the body count.
What follows is unsettling and exciting, a violent thriller that finds writer-director Jeremy Saulnier (whose previous picture, Blue Ruin, earned critical hosannas two years ago) milking the claustrophobic setting for maximum impact. The film is grisly but not gratuitous, and any laughs are generated not by a jokey attitude toward the life-and-death struggle (as is the norm in many action films) but in the befuddled reactions of the young protagonists attempting to cope with a completely foreign situation. (There's also a running gag of the "If you were stranded on a desert island" variety that leads to a couple of amusing payoffs.) The performers picked to play both the heroes and the heavies sell the material, and while Patrick Stewart is just about the last actor we would expect to find barking orders at skinheads in a backwater hellhole, he proves to be an inspired casting choice. (And Trekkies will be amused to see Yelchin, Chekov in the new Star Trek flicks, matching wits with Jean-Luc Picard himself.)
There are a couple of late lapses in logic, and the final confrontation could use a bit more oomph. But overall, Green Room is a sterling example of locating and mining a rich vein in a well-worn premise.