About 4 months ago I posted on my personal wall about this movie. I was interested from the word go seeing Andy Biersack in a movie. I am quite a fan of The Black Veil Brides in recent years and have played his song, (as Andy Black) “We Don’t Have to Dance” on repeat way too many times. Then on top of that you see Malcolm MacDowell in the movie, and Mark Boone Junior (who is almost always a pleasure) and I am even more curious. You tell me the plot is about a band who is potentially, and literally, selling its soul to the devil to become famous – how can I pass it up?
Oh, it doesn’t get a showing in Tucson on it’s release date of October 13. That’s problematic. Yet good news came to me Wednesday as they announced a release date here well…today. Granted one theatre. One show, but I will take it.
The question is do I regret it?
Let’s start as we always do with the writers. We have Matty Beckerman and Ash Avildsen. I had to dig beyond my usual IMDB searching to find much on them. Beckerman is an interesting one mostly having functioned in a producer role; which means funding projects and in one of his prior lives arranging soundtracks for movies. He has no writing experience. This brings us to Ash Avildsen, who is the founder and CEO of Sumerian Records , who have among their roster Asking Alexandria. If I had to guess looking at the former bands Beckerman and and Avildsen met while working with some of the same bands. He too has little writing experience that I can find or any real experience in the directors chair. Both of these facts explain more than a few things.
The story here isn’t much deeper than described above. A group of friends who met online meet in L.A. and try to make their dream come true. Before they have the chance to succeed or fail on their own a man makes them a deal that is hard to refuse. Of course they COULD refuse, but to quote Once Upon a Time – all magic comes at a price dearie. The rest of the movie focuses on lead singer Johnny Faust trying to decide who he wants to be in the dark side of the music industry you hear about, movies talk about, but no one ever has the fortitude to show.
This movie does. It gets so much credit with me for actually bothering to show up to a movie about sex, drugs, and rock and roll with those same three things. You always hear these things like a mantra from musicians, the media, and magazines, but you only hear the aftermath of wrecked rooms and wrecked lives. American Satan doesn’t shy away from any of it and to it’s further credit doesn’t glorify it either – which was a fine line to walk.
On the acting front Andy has a lot to carry as the front man for the band and the target of attention by the powers that be. Damn if he didn’t try. He put his heart into his performance and when he’s on stage, when he’s in the studio he absolutely nails it. The scenes with Olivia Culpo (Miss USA 2012, Miss Universe 2012), as Johnny’s girlfriend, just don’t quite have the chemistry or dialogue to work as strong as they could. Like I can see them both working their butts off to make the dialogue, blocking, and scene work but it doesn’t quite land for me; and I have to wonder why they didn’t cast his actual wife Juliet Simms as his girlfriend. Conversely the scenes with Jesse Sullivan, who plays the band bassist Lily Mayflower, work. I don’t want to call it chemistry between them, but there is something there. She does capture the eye and the camera when on screen. It was good to see the Mayflower character be a confirmed bi sexual with only a little pandering – but she was never shamed so again credit. I think I want to see more of Sullivan in the future.
Ben Bruce who is the lead guitarist of Asking Alexandria acts his living heart out. He has not one, but two great emotional scenes I think other Hollywood productions should take a look at and get an idea of what such scenes look like. Booboo Stewart (X-Men Days of Future Past, Twilight, He Never Died) is good and has screen presence, but the camera forgets him during the bridge between Act I and Act II. John Bradley (Samwell Tarly from Game of Thrones) as Ricky is delightful. Then the movies goes and gives us Bill Goldberg of WWE fame, Bill Duke (Predator, Commando, Payback) and Denise Richards (Wild Things, Starship Troopers) in small parts; which was surprising but adds something to the movie I will talk about later. Mark Boone Junior (30 Days of Night, Batman Begins, Sons of Anarchy) was fantastic as Elias, the executive of Akkadian Records. The one you need to hear about is Malcolm McDowell – there is no piece of celluloid that went undevoured. He chews scenery in in the role like he is a starving man and the movie is even more glorious for it. He’s an absolute delight as he helps drive the movie forward.
What matters most is every actor and every singer tries their best. You can absolutely tell they are putting heart and soul to make this work. The movie may not be their comfort zone but again effort counts and not one performance – not one was wasted. Every last one was enjoyable to watch.
That said, as the youtube channel Cinema Sins comments, no movie is without sin. This has them but the truckload. I appreciate this is a passion project between friends, coworkers, and family with fans who support it. I appreciate Avildsen and Beckerman haven’t officially dipped their toes in this space before. You boys really needed to let someone else take a pass at the script. You have a lot of great concepts but you never quite nail any of them to the wall. They are close don’t get me wrong, but the ideas introduced never quite form the way they could. The movie isn’t subtle in either dialogue or metaphor which could be intentional, but the editing chopped just a bit too much in all the wrong points which almost left the movie a bit of a mess. Ok it did leave it a bit of one. No almost. The editing was nothing short of a train wreck as it cuts from disjointed scene to disjointed scene some running too long, others running too short; and others still with things left in frame that take away from the moment.
Even with the sometimes cringey dialogue, tonal shifts, the bad edits, bizarre camera work (like seriously black and white in one scene? Why?); I still find myself enjoy it. The music was nearly a list of some of my favourite current tracks or covers of my old ones. The production designer (Tracy Dishman) worked her butt off and gave us very visually interesting sets which almost kept me from realizing how many of them were reused. Even with the realization I don’t care! She did great work.
I really enjoyed it.
I am still smiling a bit as I listen to the soundtrack thinking on what I watched. I laughed, intentionally, more than a few times and lost myself in a few moments of the film and forgot about the world for a bit. It is however flawed on a structural level and I have crucified movies for less than this movies flaws. There are so many mediocre films with no heart, no passion, that give the appearance of trying that don’t even have a tenth of the effort this one put forth. In the main body above I keep talking about credit where its due. I will praise an indy movie on just the right side of bad when it tried its damnedest with everyone giving it their all and in the same breath condemn a studio production that I know someone cared about but clearly not the studio itself.
I keep thinking of Flatliners as an example. It has one of the major flaws this did. It introduced ideas but never really explores or realizes their full potential. Flatliners sucked. This does not. I can’t really put my finger on it beyond the fact I was engaged here. I saw a movie doing something others only tease about when it comes to the dark side of music (real or fanciful).
American Satan goes where few others are brave enough and for that succeeds despite its flaws. The actors do a great job letting me care even when the movie sometimes forgets about them. I can’t quite call it original since it is all but literally a rock and roll version of The Devils Advocate and well….Faust, but its original enough.
Should you see it?
If you like movies that are literally about sex, drugs, rock and roll? Yes. Do you like edgy indy movies? Yes. It has a great soundtrack and for the nth time during this review – IT TRIES! A movie done on the cheap that tries its hardest despite its limitations
Would you see it again?
I think so. I know I am buying it when it comes out for purchase.
So I like Andy Biersack too, how does he sound?
*sigh* Sadly, due to conflicting contracts we never actually get to hear his vocals. It’s a shame to cast such a talented voice and not get to hear him. Also this is not a musical. It is about music, but this isn’t like Rock of Ages.
I am perplexed at how much I find myself really enjoying this movie. It just kind of clicked with me and in a year of mediocre and meh beating me up one side and down the others. I will take a hundred American Satans.
My final words are a Thank You to the social media team of American Satan for getting the word out there and whoever got us a showing in Tucson. I am glad I saw this tonight.