I meant to see writer/director Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room when it was out in theaters “back” in 2015. Never happened. Then I meant to see it as soon as it came out on Blu-ray (from Lionsgate, who have put together a nice little package with a “making-of” featurette and a full-length director’s commentary track that’s pretty engaging). Never happened. Then it finally made it to the top of my Netflix rental queue (yes, I still have one of those) and guess what? Last night I did, finally, see it. And you know what? I’m glad I waited.
I say that because as good as Green Room no doubt seemed when it came out — and it is very good — it now seems downright prescient as an allegory for American life circa late 2016/early 2017. A year-and-change ago this punks-vs.-Nazis survival horror probably came off as being a bit far-fetched to many viewers, but that was back when the idea of uneducated rural racists seemed an almost quaint anachronism of a day and age that had thankfully passed. Now, their chosen con-man-turned-candidate is headed for the White House, and he’s bringing their wretched movement’s most successful spokesman, the risible and pathetic Steve Bannon, along for the ride — and so, in a very real sense, this flick has ended up becoming a preview of Trump’s America in microcosm.
Of course, back when Green Room came out, co-star Anton Yelchin was also very much alive, so a solemn air of a Hollywood — and an America — that was and might have been hangs heavy over the proceedings here and accentuates a wistful tone already inherent in the beautiful and near-romantically shot Pacific Northwest landscapes. If you saw this film upon release, then, you’d probably be doing yourself a favor to go back and check it out again now in light of the small- and large-scale tragedies that have happened since and see if it hits you even harder this time. My bet is that it almost certainly will.
For those unfamiliar with the set-up here, it plays out as follows : an east coast punk band consisting of lead singer Tiger (played by Callum Turner), guitarist Sam (Alia Shawkat), bassist Pat (Yelchin), and drummer Reece (Joe Cole) are wrapping up their latest tour with no money, food, or gas for their van. Their final show ends up a total bust thanks to half-assed preparation from Bay Area fan-boy/promoter Tad (David W. Thompson), but all hope is not lost — Tad can line ’em up with one more gig thanks to some cousin of his who knows a club out in the sticks that needs a bill-filler the next afternoon as part of an all-day music fest. It pays cash, which is always nice, but he warns them not to get too political, as it’s strictly a “boots and braces” crowd out in BF Oregon.
Tell ya what, though, this band has balls — they get up in front of the racist fucking skinhead bastards (remember when we called ’em what they were instead of all this “alt- right” and “white nationalist” bullshit?) , play the DK classic “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” and somehow get out of the place alive. For a second, at any rate. Until they get back to the titular green room, where they witness a brutal crime that suddenly thrusts them into an uneasy temporary alliance with a local “white power” fraulein named Amber (Imogen Poots) as they all fight to stay alive against the low-rent stormtroopers under the command of cold-blooded backwoods would-be Hitler Darcy Banker (Patrick Stewart at his absolute best and most chilling). Spurts of intensely bloody and graphic violence expertly timed for maximum impact punctuate the white-knuckle (in this case very white-knuckle) tension that Saulnier lays on thick and heavy, but the real genius of this film lies in marrying the kind of psychotic evil we’re used to seeing in the horror genre (its most obvious physical manifestation here coming in the form of Eric Edelstein’s “Big Justin” character) with a very real and dangerous political ideology. And it’s twice as frightening now that there are far fewer than six degrees of separation between the skinhead movement and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Populated with heart, gallows humor, spellbinding performances across the board, agonizingly human characters, and a very real and palpable threat, Green Room would (and, hey, should) have been my pick for best horror film of 2015 if I had seen it then — in post-election 2016, it’s downright essential viewing. This is what we’re up against, and it’s very frightening indeed. Nazi Trump Fuck Off.