Those who’ve toured in punk bands will tell you that they’re always teetering near the point of getting the crap knocked out of them.
One stray glance. One wrong conversation. Better be ready to fight. Or ready to do something worse.
That’s the premise behind “Green Room,” in which a struggling hardcore punk act called the Ain’t Rights plays a dodgy gig for an even dodgier audience, leading to a blood-spattered night that tests their survival skills.
Filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier delivers on the promise of “Blue Ruin,” his engrossing 2014 revenge odyssey. “Green Room” sustains a bleak intensity unrivaled in recent thrillers — or horror movies, for that matter. The film gains potency from its pure plausibility.
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Awakening in a corn field after singer Tiger (Callum Turner) falls asleep at the wheel, the members of a Virginia punk quartet are ready to finish their van tour of the West Coast. Tiger’s bandmates — bassist Pat (Anton Yelchin), guitarist Sam (Alia Shawkat) and drummer Reece (Joe Cole) — fancy themselves old-schoolers, citing Cro-Mags and Poison Idea as DIY heroes. The gangly musicians explain during a casual interview that they don’t promote the group through social media because, “When you take it all visual, you lose the texture.”
They encounter plenty of “texture” when they agree to an opening gig at a wooded compound in rural Oregon. The mohawked local radio host (David W. Thompson) who sets up the show ominously refers to the crowd as “right wing — or technically, ultra-left.” But $350 is a whole lot more than nothing.
It’s hard enough to overlook the Confederate flags and white power stickers in the dressing room. It’s impossible, however, to overlook the dead body Pat finds after the band finishes its set.
Venue owner Darcy (an intimidating Patrick Stewart) and manager Gabe (“Blue Ruin” lead Macon Blair) try to calm the panicked musicians, now locked in the green room with the body.
“We’re not keeping you. You’re just staying,” Gabe explains as his corps of skinhead true believers sort out the mess.
But the bandmates and an unlucky patron (Imogen Poots) ultimately find themselves trapped, wounded and overmatched.
Green room is the term for a place where performers hang out before and after a show. It’s typically not synonymous with a panic room, yet Saulnier exploits every angle of what might happen if imprisoned in such a space. The resourceful Ain’t Rights fend off the onslaughts of a terrifying, determined enemy, echoing other classic versions of defend-the-castle films such as Sam Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs” and John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13.”
It’s almost like one of those “escape room” venues where you actually die if you can’t figure out the puzzle in time.
Saulnier considers “Green Room” the final part of his “inept protagonist trilogy” (along with “Blue Ruin” and “Murder Party”), in which individuals having absolutely no experience with real violence are compelled to employ it. This latest film sprang from the time Saulnier spent as a youth in the Washington, D.C., punk scene, where he attended his share of precarious concerts, both as a fan and a singer.
“Green Room” bleeds authenticity — from the scraggy look of the performers to the harsh sounds of their environment to the distinctive squalor that becomes the day-to-day life of those traveling together in a cramped van. The only thing that doesn’t quite appear genuine is the group’s brief live performance, which displays a slight lip-synced quality.
Despite Saulnier’s keen eye for stark imagery, “Green Room” often proves difficult to watch. In striving to capture the grit of the situation, he peppers the screen with vivid, low-tech violence — the type that sticks with you long after the picture ends. Saulnier illustrates that the only thing more disturbing than seeing a kind-hearted person get killed is watching as they are forced to kill.
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”
Rated R. Time: 1:34.