American Satan

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

American Satan
"Ash Avildsen's sophomore feature doesn't have much to say that's new but it knows how to entertain."

Films about young rebels who dream of becoming rock stars are almost as plentiful as young rebels who dream of becoming rock stars. What outsiders often miss, however, is that these are not art forms in which originality is all important. What really counts is passion, and there's also a humour, an awareness of the silliness of it all, that seems to be lost on more distant observers. Ash Avildsen's sophomore feature doesn't have much to say that's new but it knows how to entertain, how to give the people what they want and do so with energy and a sense of fun.

The Reckless are an ambitious ensemble of musicians from the US and UK, converging on the Sunset Strip where dreams have always gone to die. There's an immediate culture clash to deal with and those who have spent half a month's income on travel are not thrilled to find that they'll be sleeping in a van, nor that no actual gigs have been booked. Making money proves to be a lot harder than any of them imagined, until they catch the attention of sinister stranger Mr Capricorn. That he's played by Malcolm McDowell should immediately make viewers wary, never mind that he claims to be Satan himself and demands a human sacrifice before he will lend his supposed help. Naturally the band hesitate at the latter suggestion, but only until singer Johnny Faust (Andy Biersack of the Black Veil Brides) discovers that his mother has cancer and will have to find money for treatment. Evil takes many forms.

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Though the early part of the film makes it look like an ensemble piece, Johnny is the pretty one (a fact frequently pointed out in case we missed it), so is naturally in line for both the greatest rise and the hardest fall. He's also the one in a lonngstanding monogamous relationship, which makes him more vulnerable to moral corruption by the day to day excesses of rock n' roll. He's not so pretty, though, that this really suffices to explain Capricorn's interest - there are plenty more where he came from - so the nature of the stranger's game is never entirely clear. What is clear is that he makes a habit of it. Avildsen gives his film a little more depth and dark humour by weaving in the stories of real life musicians - many of them fond of Satanic symbolism - who have met with unfortunate ends on the rocky road to and from success.

Given that Avildsen is a music producer himself, there's a lot of sympathy here for the people behind the scenes who make the gigs, the records and the reputation-building happen. This is more unusual and anyone who has worked in that capacity will enjoy the humour in it. There are also a few digs at the stereotypes. Female characters assert their own sexual desires and don't seem to be exploited (or necessarily interested in men). Roadies actually show concern for the young stars in their charge. Drug issues are handled without recourse to the standard dogma.

There are also a few odd notes. In particular, the notion that an orgy could still be sufficient, in this day and age, to create a major media scandal, is charmingly naive. Ultimately, though, this is fantasy stuff and doesn't need to be entirely believable. It's playful and self-aware without getting pretentious in its irony. McDowell is clearly having fun and is used sparingly enough to maintain the necessary mystique. Not all the young actors really know what they're doing, but the weaker ones mostly stay in the background, and there's a nice turn from Jesse Sullivan as a local musician and last minute addition to the band who may have a few secrets of her own.

Leigh Poindexter's handsome art direction, Adrienne Garcia's suitably indulgent sets and Katie Halliday's snappy sound editing make this a polished production and music is well used throughout to create mood, though we never learn much about the Relentless from a musical point of view - their auditory output isn't really the point. A few fragments of real Satanist philosophy slip through into the narrative, counterpointed by the wholesomeness embodied in Johnny's small town girlfriend, but it would be a mistake to look for moral depth. There's no mystery to the allure of the dark side. Amerian Satan sets out openly to show you a good time.

Reviewed on: 18 Dec 2017
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Members of a young rock band are persuaded to make a sinister deal by an enigmatic stranger.

Director: Ash Avildsen

Writer: Ash Avildsen, Matty Beckerman

Starring: Denise Richards, Patrick Muldoon, Malcolm McDowell, Booboo Stewart, Marke Boone Junior, Tori Black

Year: 2017

Runtime: 111 minutes

Country: US

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