Monday 7 March 2022

Studio 666 (2022) - Movie Review

Medicine At Midnight is a weird-ass album. I love the hell out of the Foo Fighters (Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace is one of my favourite albums from any band), but hearing them go into full-on DFA-style dance-rock was quite jarring. It’s like a midway point between a standard late-period Foos album and a Bee Gees cover album, which the Foos also released just a few months later under the name ‘Dee Gees’ (it’s called Hail Satin, and it’s surprisingly good; Dave can hit those high notes). For a former post-grunge band rubbing up against disco, it’s certainly not as embarrassing as Nickleback’s She Keeps Me Up, and even in the larger spectrum of aging post-grunge, it’s a hell of a lot better than whatever the fuck Aaron Lewis is doing nowadays, but it’s still very odd. To paraphrase a YouTube comment under their cover of You Should Be Dancing, it shows the Foos entering the “because we fucking can” phase of their career.

I bring all this up because, even with all that in my head beforehand, the most interesting aspect of Medicine At Midnight isn’t on the album itself. Rather, it’s to do with where Grohl and company recorded the thing. They shacked up in a 1940s mansion in Encino, Los Angeles, where, according to Grohl, weird shit kept happened. Like, ‘this house might be possessed’ kind of weird shit. They had to sign an NDA with the house’s owner, so they’re unable to get into their own supposed filmed evidence of this stuff, but basically, the Foos’ softest record to date was recorded under some pretty metal circumstances.

And from that background, the spores for this film came forth, with a script based on Dave Grohl’s experiences and the band itself starring as fictionalised versions of themselves. Hell, the main shooting location is the Encino property this all originally took place in. I had next to no expectations going into this, but out of respect for both the Spheres and Dave Grohl himself as the nicest guy in rock, I was definitely curious to see what kind of production could spring out of such an idea. The end result of it all, however, is confusingly muddled.

Grohl has at least some experience with metal cinema through his role as Beelzeboss in Tenacious D’s Pick Of Destiny, and whether it’s because of it being his initial idea or him just being game for the proceedings regardless, he’s definitely the one having the most fun here. Everyone else (with the possible exception of Rami Jaffee, and even then, he’s more annoying than anything else) is rather stiff in front of the camera. But the supporting cast has some decent names to help back it all up, from Jeff Garlin as their manager, Kerry King from Slayer turns up, Will Forte gets to flex some of that Extra Ordinary muscle, Jenna Ortega adds to her horror resume in a small role, and even Lionel Ritchie shows up at one point. Why, exactly, is a bit trickier to figure out, but he sure is here.

In terms of pure presentation, I have to give the film credit because it looks great. Director BJ McDonnell, aside from directing one of the Hatchet sequels, also did three music videos for Slayer’s last album, and that familiarity with thrash imagery serves him well here. Another R18+ shiny to treasure, this has some insanely graphic kills to its name, and the practical effects are just gorgeous to see on the big screen. Even when it gets into the more supernatural shit, namely to do with the malevolent spirit in the house and its plans for Dave Grohl, it’s quite eye-catching and shows that McDonnell understood the assignment he was given.

The writers, though? Different story. Almost literally, given how wonky this film’s pacing and tone can be. Writer Jeff Buhler’s past horror pedigree involves working on the remakes of Pet Sematary, The Grudge, and Jacob’s Ladder, and co-writer Rebecca Hughes doesn’t even have that much. And that unfortunately shows through, as while the visuals are all primed and ready, the story and writing in general are quite underwhelming. It’s like a cross between The Shining and Metallica’s Some Kind Of Monster, with Grohl becoming increasingly obsessed with perfecting their next album and driving his bandmates up the wall in the process. It hits on some interesting ideas on occasion, like how different ‘rock music’ has become in recent years, or musical inspiration being like a form of demonic possession (I like, I like), but most of it can feel like a drag to sit through. Dave Grohl going all kill-crazy is fun, but the connective tissue that needs to be chewed through to get there, not so much.

While the first and third acts have their share of delightfully gonzo moments, the film ultimately looks a lot like I do nowadays: Too much flab in the middle. All that imagery I mentioned before seems to leave the film entirely for a while, and even with the thrash cred, there’s not nearly enough atmosphere to be as scary as it wants to be, or even as funny as it wants to be. And on the latter point, yeah, I got some grins out of just how unashamedly goofy it can get, but even that wears off after a bit. It shouldn’t be possible for a film about a rock band making a song written in the Necronomicon to be this lacking in fun.

It’s all surface style, without any consistent fonts of glee or scares to make it worth its own run time. It’s cool that they got John Carpenter to not only cameo in the film proper, but also help make its opening title theme (which sounds great), but that shouldn’t be mistaken for this being on the same tier as what that man was capable of in this arena.

The track that the Foos dropped as the in-universe metal band Dream Widow is pretty good, so if the full album they apparently recorded comes out, then maybe something good will come out of this endeavour. But as it stands, this is a fitfully engaging feature where its inspiration, for as little as the layman even knows about it, ends up being more entertaining than what it inspired.

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