Green Room was one of the best horror films of 2015, but in 2016 it packs an even heavier punch. Two factors make Green Room harder to watch one year after its premiere: the untimely death of its star, Anton Yelchin, and the sudden increase of Nazism across the political landscape. Even the band’s name, the Ain’t Rights, feels different in our new alt-right world.
Green Room follows a struggling young punk band as they unwittingly play a show at a neo-Nazi commune, witness a crime and are terrorized by Nazis in an attempt to guarantee their silence.
The Ain’t Rights is a struggling band from the Washington D.C. area traveling through the Pacific Northwest for a gig. After their showcase is cut short, they are offered a make-up show by a local radio host: his cousin Daniel works at a remote bar in the woods near Oregon, and they have space for a set. He warns the band that it’s a “boots and braces” type crowd, a shorthand for the skinhead part of the punk subculture. He says they’re hard right, but it should be okay, especially if the band plays their older, more hardcore stuff.
When they arrive at the bar in the middle of the woods, it becomes apparent this is not really the Ain’t Rights scene: the crowd is mostly skinheads and white power types, which they immediately decide to piss off by singing a cover of the Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” The rest of the gig goes smoothly, and the band is happy to collect their money and leave before bassist Pat (Anton Yelchin) runs back into the green room for a forgotten phone. He finds a dead young woman with a knife still sticking out of her, her distraught friend and several members of another skinhead band that was playing that night. That’s when everything kicks off.
Pat tries to call 911, his phone is wrestled away, employees at the bar hold the band at gunpoint and force them into the green room. The murderers are sent home, and it’s only the Ain’t Rights versus the skinheads. They decide to barricade themselves in the green room until the police arrive, but the skinheads obviously know how to deal with the police. They pay a pair of young kids outside the show to stage a stabbing (as in, lightly stab each other) and pretend that is what prompted Pat’s 911 call. Another call is placed, this time to club owner and neo-Nazi leader Darcy (Patrick Stewart). The young dead girl, Emily, and the man who killed her are part of Darcy’s skinhead crew, and he wants the matter dealt with internally. The only obstacle is The Ain’t Rights, an out of town band who clearly aren’t a part of their Nazi movement. So now the stand-off begins in earnest.
Darcy tries to negotiate with Pat through the barricaded green room door and urges him to hand over the gun the band had managed to wrestle away from the bouncer in the room with them. It’s a ruse, and skinheads hiding with Darcy slash at Pat’s arm when he reaches outside the door. The bouncer tries to escape, and Reece (Joe Cole) puts him into a chokehold, while Emily’s friend Amber (Imogen Poots) stabs him with a box cutter. Things have escalated quickly, and the band needs to escape while Darcy regroups. They find a bunker underneath the green room, but it leads to a heroin lab with no way out. They decide to arm themselves with whatever they can and leave the green room, hoping to ambush the skinheads but are attacked by trained pit bulls. Tiger (Callum Turner) is mauled to death, and Reece escapes through a window and is then stabbed by awaiting skinheads. Pat and Amber use microphone feedback to scare away the dogs and make it back to the green room with Sam (Alia Shawkat), the only other surviving member of the band. Darcy sends in Daniel to finish them off, not knowing that he had been planning to escape with Emily and that is what got her killed. He tries to help the group escape but is shot by another skinhead. They kill the attacker and steal his gun, but Sam is mauled by more pit bulls and only Pat and Amber make it back, once again, to the green room. Two more skinheads are sent to take care of Pat and Amber while Darcy brings the bodies to a nearby farm to frame their deaths as justified. He stages their bodies like they were stealing and attacked by the dogs for trespassing.
Pat and Amber manage to outsmart the two remaining skinheads: Pat hides in the heroin cellar while Amber hides in a couch in the green room and sneaks out to kill one of the assailants while the other is downstairs hunting Pat. She drops down and kills the second skinhead. Gabe, the bar owner who called Darcy, is still on the scene but wants nothing to do with this bloodshed. He lets the two escape and go after Darcy while he runs to a nearby farm and tells them to call the police. Pat and Amber kill Darcy and his remaining henchmen, and then sit on the side of the road and wait for the police.
It’s a terrifying siege movie, like Assault on Precinct 13 was full of punk music and rage. The scares and tension are real, as are the terrified performances from young actors like Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, and Joe Cole. The tension and unease starts as soon as they arrive at the nazi commune, especially since Alia Shawkat is a mixed-race woman, and Anton Yelchin is Jewish. They maintain their cool, punk rock facade throughout the gig, and their angry defiance is the epitome of punk rock. That slowly fades as the situation begins to spiral out of their control, and the kids go from an angry and righteous instance that they are in the right (ironic, considering their name) becomes a frantic and messy attempt at survival. Imogen Poots plays Amber as much more world-weary than the band: she’s seen the neo-Nazis at work before and knows not to trust them, not to believe them, and that there’s only one way out of this mess. Patrick Stewart meanwhile plays menacing very well. He’s willing to do absolutely anything to clean up this mess, even if it means murdering six innocent kids in cold blood. It’s almost a warped version of what we come to expect from the beloved actor, like if Professor Xavier would murder innocents to protect his X-Men.
Anton Yelchin is the standout performer in the film, which makes his recent death all the more saddening. The young actor was only 27 when he died this year, but he already had a strong body of work behind him. His somewhat soft-spoken and ultimate good-hearted portrayal of Pat, an anomaly in his hard-living punk world, including his party heavy band, anchors the film. Watching him scream in pain as Nazis tried to hack his arm off felt even more painful knowing he died in a freak accident not long after.
When this film first played Midnight Madness during the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015, I thought the use of skinheads and neo-Nazis was interesting. Skinheads have unfortunately always been a subculture in the punk and metal scenes, and their anger, devotion and misguided sense of community put together a formidable obstacle. One year later, it seems almost too on the nose: young Americans have been held hostage by neo-Nazis. The rise of the far right has been coming for years, but it’s come to a head in the USA right now with the presence of the “alt-right” and white nationalists in the White House.
The Ain’t Rights were right about one thing: Nazi punks, fuck off.
Green Room is available on Netflix.