Lawrence Toppman

Gripping ‘Green Room’ runs red

How do I know “Green Room” will grab you, if you give it a chance? Because I’m as far from the target audience as Cuba is from Bayonne, N.J., and it grabbed me.

It’s one of those high-concept, low-budget movies that can be expressed in a sentence: A punk band must escape from a skinhead bar after witnessing a murder.

After a couple of scenes that establish the resourcefulness of the four members of the Ain’t Rights, we go to the neo-Nazi hangout where they play a set, stumble on a corpse with a knife in her head and spend 70 minutes trying not to get bumped off.

This may sound unprepossessing, but Sir Patrick Stewart – who’s first-rate as the calm, ruthless club owner “cleaning up” the mess – has enough money and alternate offers not to waste time on a project that isn’t carefully and cleverly assembled. This one is.

Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier and cinematographer Sean Porter contrast the lush openness of the woods (including Mount Hood National Forest near Portland) with the claustrophobic space where the band is trapped: The waiting room where the band holes up (called a “green room” because such spaces in Broadway theaters traditionally had green walls) and the two rooms beneath it, where the skinheads make dope they sell around Oregon.

We don’t know much about the four band members (Anton Yelchin, Joe Cole, Alia Shawkat and Callum Turner); they’re just knockabout musicians in their 20s trying to keep punk music alive wherever anyone will listen. They end up in the bar when a concert falls through, and a promoter redirects them to this gig.

Nor do we know much about the villains. Darcy Banker (Stewart) is more amoral than evil; he simply has to eliminate anyone who knows about the killing to protect his white-power movement. That includes not just the Ain’t Rights but Amber (Imogen Poots), best friend of the dead girl and an opponent as resourceful as the rockers.

Saulnier doesn’t stint on blood, but he doesn’t douse us with it constantly. Nobody does anything superhuman, except for surviving serious wounds for a very long time. Death comes noisily or stealthily but always credibly. The whole movie has a matter-of-factness that extends not just to the final photographic montage but the last line of dialogue. We can’t ask for more from this genre, and we often get much less.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

‘Green Room’

Cast: Patrick Stewart, Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Joe Cole, Alia Shawkat.

Writer-director: Jeremy Saulnier.

Length: 94 minutes.

Rating: R (strong brutal graphic violence, gory images, language, some drug content).