Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room is an impeccably crafted cinematic torture machine -- in the best possible way. The premise will make some cringe, while making others giddy: A punk band, trapped in a club in the middle of nowhere, has to fight off a bunch of murderous skinheads to get out. Count me among the initially skeptical. The idea sounds less like a grindhouse classic than a juvenile music video, but Saulnier distinguishes the concept with artistry and expertise.
The band is called the Ain't Rights, and when we meet them they're struggling through a pathetic tour of the Pacific Northwest, stealing gas for their van. A canceled club gig and a desperate need for cash prompt them to play a backwoods venue attended and run by neo-Nazis. "Just don't talk politics," they're warned. Still, they can't help but sing the Dead Kennedys' "Nazi Punks Fuck Off"
Things truly get tense, however, after one member of the group walks in on a grisly murder scene backstage. Suddenly, the Ain't Rights are witnesses, and the whole club has turned against them. The band barricades itself in the green room, desperately trying to figure a way out of the situation. Enter the club's owner, Darcy (Patrick Stewart), an older skinhead whose efficient, downright reasonable demeanor somehow makes him that much creepier.
That tension between unhinged panic and taking-care-of-business cool gives Green Room its unique kick. The blood flows, the limbs fly, the bodies drop and our hardcore poser heroes have to learn to get in touch with their inner berserkers. So does the movie, though its madness is a controlled one. Can a film be both graphic and subtle?