Quick Answer: Green Room is a siege film with no shortage of brutal violence, but its most striking aspect is the realized punk atmosphere. Green Room’s punk rock aesthetic stylizes the genre film, breaks down the stereotypical barrier between heroes and villains, and infuses the setting of the "green room" with claustrophobia. Writer/Director Jeremy Saulnier has adapted the essence of a live punk performance in film form: its physicality, energy and aesthetic.
Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room (2016) follows a fictional punk band (The Ain’t Rights) that gets trapped in a life-or-death situation at the end of their unsuccessful tour. They become accidental witnesses to a murder in a backwoods venue in Oregon, and in order to escape, they must outmaneuver Neo-Nazi club owner Darcy (Patrick Stewart) and his henchmen. Green Room is a siege film with no shortage of brutal violence, but what is most striking is the film's stylized atmosphere of punk. The meticulous details — from The Ain’t Rights’ ripped t-shirts and unwashed blue hair to the Neo-Nazi bumper stickers and amateur graffiti splattered on the walls — add up to a punk rock aesthetic that helps the movie go beyond our expectations of the thriller genre and creates a vivid, immediate cinematic experience.
Green Room’s punk rock aesthetic creates a stylistically consistent setting that situates us in a distinctive world of punk. In the "green room," close-up shots of band members' faces and constant visual reminders of the surrounding neo-Nazis evoke feelings of claustrophobia. "White Power" stickers can be seen in the background of several shots, and you can almost taste the cigarette smoke excreting from the couch cushions. The Ain’t Rights (played by Anton Yelchin; Alia Shawkat; Joe Cole; Callum Turner) know that they must pay close attention to their surroundings in order to escape alive. In this way, Green Room is less interested in its characters than in the situation they find themselves in: a potentially literal dead end. The Ain’t Rights and Neo-Nazis are competitors in a game of punk chess or, as band member Pat (Anton Yelchin) puts it after nearly losing an arm, “We gotta treat this like paintball.”
Green Room, 2016
In the film’s press notes, Saulnier said that the concept for Green Room had been brewing for decades: “For a time, I was as deeply connected to the sound, the aesthetic, and the physicality of punk and hardcore.” It’s clear that the director is well versed in the nuances of the punk scene. Before the action of the film unfolds, we see The Ain’t Rights perform Dead Kennedys’ 1981 classic “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” to a crowd full of Neo-Nazis — an antagonistic move that earns them credibility in the paradoxical punk way. Saulnier has said that this was the first punk song he ever heard, on a road trip in 1985. Other songs performed by The Ain’t Rights were written by Saulnier’s old high school bandmates, and the film's "atmospheric and electronic driven score" was composed by Brooke and Will Blair (whom Saulnier worked with on his 2013 film Blue Ruin). Music by the likes of Slayer, Syphilitic Lust and Patsy's Rats scores certain scenes of violence, but most of the action is portrayed without the expected soundtrack. Sounds of ruthless stabbing, slashing, and bleeding provide the high energy associated with punk music on their own.
The sartorial world of Green Room (courtesy of costume designer Amanda Needham) features earth-tone flight bomber jackets, dirty band t-shirts with gaping holes, combat boots — those of Darcy’s henchmen tied with red laces — shaved heads, untamed curls and stiff-dyed mohawks. Saulnier has described the film's aesthetic as a cheaper, contemporary version of that in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). According to G’Ra Asim, member of New York-based punk band Back Talk, “The aesthetic of punk is less about any particular kind of couture or set of signifiers and more about embodying energy, irreverence and imagination.” The costume design in Green Room reflects this artistic intention: the crowd at The Ain’t Rights’ gig is a mass of reckless individuality that is unified by exactly the details that set them apart.
Green Room, 2016
Interestingly, the film blurs the line between the story's heroes and anti-heroes through costume choices. Red-laced combat boots aside, it’s difficult to draw a line between the victims and villains based on dress. This might reflect Saulnier's deeper intention. In the midst of the murderous chaos, two skinheads switch sides and help the victims out. We see that Darcy is lying to his henchmen about his personal motives. In this way, as stated by Saulnier in the press notes, “Green Room is an examination of American societal power structure and how self-serving agendas can be packaged and sold as ideology to those who would least benefit from them.” As the seemingly evil henchmen are on the receiving end of Darcy's propaganda, there are no true heroes and villains here. Like Darcy says when he first hears of the murder's accidental witnesses, “Now we’re all in the stew for an impulsive act, a selfish act.” The Ain’t Rights and the Neo-Nazis are all acting on impulse, and the result is not a war between two clearly defined sides but a “clusterfuck” of characters, a “stew.” This is one of the most original aspects of Green Room: it presents a cat-and-mouse situation without following its implied simplistic narrative.
Green Room, 2016
In Green Room, Saulnier combines a siege plot with a punk rock aesthetic that uniquely stylizes the film, breaks down the barrier between heroes and villains, and infuses the setting with claustrophobia. The aesthetic in Green Room is significant both for what it looks like on the surface and for the nonconformist intention underneath. As Back Talk band member Asim said, “Every generation of punkers reimagines this basic question: how can I subvert, dodge, dismantle or thumb my nose at norms and expectations with such jauntiness and panache that even those who are committed to conventionality begin to ponder what they ever saw in it?” This is a question to keep in mind while watching Saulnier’s film, which is unconventional in the sense that it transcends the thriller genre and rejects moral dichotomies in favor of a situation more complex: a “clusterfuck.”
Green Room seems an adaptation of the essence of a live punk performance in film: its physicality, energy and aesthetic. Saulnier steeps viewers in a realized atmosphere that won’t be easy to forget, like a vivid nightmare.