The rock-and-roll life has never looked more glamorous and seductive than it does in Green Room, a merry lark in which the four members of a scrappy D.C. punk band land a gig in the middle of Pacific Northwest nowhere. They siphon gas to get there, play a set to a crowd of skinhead boot-stompers, retreat to the holding area backstage, and proceed to be, um, held hostage.
Pitbulls are called in. The club proprietor, a cold-blooded impresario with a highly illegal side business, orders "blades and fangs for the visitors."
OK, so Green Room, Jeremy Saulnier's gristle-tough and nightmare-thrilling follow-up to 2013's revenge indie Blue Ruin, isn't merry or larky at all. But beneath the dread and gore of what, in lesser hands, could easily have passed for torture porn, Green Room courses with an adrenaline jolt of old-fashioned horror-movie fun.
The Ain't Rights, the unfortunate quartet of hard-core musicians played with unstinting exactitude by Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Alia Shawkat, and Anton Yelchin, are seen in the sleepy outset of Green Room doing an interview with a mohawked music blogger, performing for the sparse lunch crowd at a Mexican restaurant, and swapping lame jokes in a beat-up Chevy van.
The gig in the Oregon backwoods is a last-minute thing, slotted in when another concert was canceled.
It's out of the way, but why not?
And even after the snarling neo-Nazi audience has hurled epithets, spittle, and bottles at the band, the foursome seem satisfied. They're paid in cash, they're ready to go.
But, uh-oh, Sam (Shawkat) has left her phone in the green room, and when Pat (Yelchin) goes back to retrieve it, he sees something he shouldn't have. The group is hustled back to the room, the door gets locked from the outside, a surly bouncer babysits them - and so, Saulnier's razor-sharp siege thriller truly begins.
Saulnier's Blue Ruin (starring Macon Blair, who delivers a solid supporting role here) turned out to be one of the great surprises of 2013 - taut, mysterious, edge-of-your-seat stuff. Green Room is just as accomplished a film, with the writer/director doing everything right: the cast, the music, the editing, the way he leads you one way and then clobbers you (and some of his ill-fated characters) when you (and they) are least expecting it.
It might take a few minutes to recognize the actress playing Amber, a backstage straggler who gets trapped with the band, but that's because Imogen Poots is dressed in the rattiest punk couture, her hair cut in a dorky mullet - and also because Saulnier doesn't train the camera on her. She's just a bystander . . . until, when the situation turns even nastier, she steps into the fray.
There's another Brit who might take a second or two to identify: Patrick Stewart, bearded and businesslike, talking in an accent that's angular, American. He's Darcy, the owner of the bunker-like venue with its surly, tattooed clientele, and he's spine-chilling. You don't doubt his intent, his menace, for a second.
The bulk of Green Room takes place in a dark, deadly 16-hour span, and the Ain't Rights ain't ever going to be the same. Saulnier doesn't want his audience to get out of this unscathed, either. He's out to get us, scare us, and cut us up in pieces.
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier. With Joe Cole, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Patrick Stewart, and Anton Yelchin. Distributed by A24.
Running time: 1 hour, 35 mins.
Parent's guide: R (intense violence, profanity, adult themes).