Part of being in a punk band involves having to play some pretty hostile venues. But the one in writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s new white-knuckle thriller, Green Room, makes the typical mosh-pit dive look like a kindergarten run by nuns. The Ain’t Rights are a hardcore quartet who’ve been touring the country in a beat-up van straight out of Scooby-Doo (or, perhaps more fitting for this blood-soaked film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Running low on cash, the band—played by Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, and Callum Turner—is forced to siphon gas from other cars and nearly comes to blows over who gets the last packet of ramen noodles. Green Day they ain’t.
With the group about to throw in the towel and head back home, a sympathetic fan scores them a show at a sketchy-looking roadhouse deep in the Oregon woods. The only catch is that the audience is full of rabid white supremacists. Rather than being scared off, the band manages to find the absurd humor of their situation and kicks off the show with the Dead Kennedys’ rat-a-tat classic “Nazi Punks F— Off!”
Miraculously, they manage to finish their set in one piece, but as they’re about to hightail it out of there, the bassist, Pat (Yelchin), returns to the green room for a forgotten phone and discovers a dead woman on the floor with a knife stuck in her head. The rest of the Ain’t Rights, plus the dead girl’s friend (Imogen Poots), lock themselves inside while the compound’s scarily calm leader, Darcy (Patrick Stewart, menacingly against type in all but the skinhead part), plans how to clean up the messy situation.
From there, the already tense Green Room shifts gears into an intense siege thriller, pitting our DIY punk heroes against backwoods Hitler Youth psychos armed with shotguns, machetes, and throat-ripping attack dogs—an exploitation standoff that, you have to admit, you don’t see every day.
What makes Green Room more than just a giddy, gory slice of gonzo B-movie mayhem, however, is both its ace cast and the vise-tightening mastery of the man pulling the strings behind the camera. While Yelchin and Poots are worth calling out for their scrappy resourcefulness punctuated by perfectly timed bits of (much needed) black humor, it’s Stewart whose relaxed air of jackbooted evil captures and holds your attention. Like his chrome-domed countryman Ben Kingsley in 2001’s Sexy Beast, Stewart is way scarier when he’s neither barking nor biting but just purring controlled threats. Who knew he was so good being so bad?
As for director Saulnier, whose previous film was 2014’s slow-boiling revenge indie Blue Ruin, he has now officially graduated from one-to-watch to real-deal status. Turns out that just like his leading man, he’s really good at being really bad too. A–