Fair disclosure: my first love in music was always in rock, regardless of era. Whatever my ears were quickest to latch to around age 5 or 6, deeply shaped my musical education. Amid the standard kid’s music forced onto me, and just before I’d stumbled onto the old school greatness of The Beatles, there was a band mirroring their strengths for the grunge generation. For me, that was the Foo Fighters. A Seattle based combo forming out of the remnants of the late Nirvana, they rose to incite a raw, yet still refined impact on their genre pushing into the 2000s. Now, in 2022, the group, headlined by Dave Grohl, could best be described as experienced journeyman with a million stories to share. Even their misadventures in recording could be put to a short story, which is exactly what the frontman did for what is now their feature debut.
Studio 666 takes the thick-bearded singer’s recollections of recording their most recent spin, giving it a ghostly spin. The greatest issue in play, however, is how to keep that rolling once the novelty runs thin. And regrettably, that happens sooner than hoped, the steam puffs itself out, left to wonder where the ingenuity could’ve gone had there been a few more pages. It stops well too short of a home run, belly itching at third base. Anyone expecting to see these comrades engaging in dark, macabre Scooby-Doo like hijinkery may only be partially satisfied. This is more of a straight, bloody, no chaser horror comedy echoing the thralls of Suspiria, with the twisted comedy of 2019’s Banana Splits Movie, the mnemonic prose of Phantom of the Paradise, and a dash of real world accounts. Half of that is attributed to otherworldly beings presumed to have lingered around while Grohl and company were recording their tenth album, the vibrant Medicine at Midnight. The group worked out of a historical mansion in Encino he claimed resonated with captive acoustics to capture an effective drum sound. Anything to avoid repeating oneself, and differentiate from simply going to an established studio to place hot mics on lyrical creativity.
Here, under more fictional circumstances, the group returns to that same house, at the recommendation of their overwhelmed manager (a perpetually scummy Jeff Garlin) and a likeminded rental agent (Leslie Grossman), promising a gothic feel with a heightened aural aesthetic. Sadly, it’s not so quickly cut and dry here, as the mates are soon to realize the house has a history. As next door neighbor Samantha (a cheery Whitney Cummings) alludes, the last tenants were a band whose lead singer offed himself for reasons left mysterious. The ghostly apparitions lingering around do affect Grohl in a mildly egotistical manner, furthering his energies, if not also altering his rational thinking in the process.
Grohl knows how to keep his on switch on, rallying his fellow Foos to stay on their balanced toes with rather mixed results. Drummer Taylor Hawkins bravely navigates snark as effectively as co-guitarist Pat Smear can try deadpan. Not quite to the max, and yet still charming to a fault. It’s still BJ McConnell’s (Hatchet III) show, however, staging Grohl’s perceptibility with a sharp music video flair. Not unlike his prior work with groups like Slayer. Not quite playing for direct laughs the same way 1999’s short for Learn to Fly had accomplished in less time, but floating along in a very similar pattern. It is scary, gory, highly visceral, but not so painfully dark that mere sight is impossible.
The overall demeanor McConnell bolsters against a nearly complete screenplay, credited to Jeff Buhler (The Grudge) and Rebecca Hughes, aims for laidback, allowing heads to roll with an upbeat vibe. Such is music, it’s supposed to fun, rewarding even. And Grohl owns that idea, and that of the film’s utter ridiculousness, demonic evil slowly invading his consciousness. Among the clues Hawkins, Smear, third guitarist Chris Shiflett, bassist Nate Mendel, and keyboardist Rami Jeffee discover, Grohl’s insistence on a lengthy instrumental track, lengthy sessions to perfect its groove, experimenting with newfound musical chords, and developing an increasing taste for meat. The last of those lends itself to a pair of momentarily hilarious scenes involving Will Forte as a hapless delivery driver trying to push his demo tracks on the band. We’re even treated to a John Carpenter cameo, to beef up the nostalgic side of this motif (composing a delightful opening theme wasn’t enough).
And it’s very good natured, for all its bloodshed, the mode being completely on playing the moment as goofily as possible. That still cannot prevent the mood from taking a small nosedive in the final half hour once Grohl’s friends piece the puzzle together for their leader’s wild swings. Once real intentions are clarified, McConnell can’t keep the pacing in line, and the rhythmic sequence goes on the decline. The impact isn’t any lessened, the visual candor unwavered at the careful eyes of DP Michael Dallatorre (Brightburn). My attention took a hit at a certain position, however, recognizing this story was starved for an ending fitting of its potential.
McConnell does find a decent finish, but it still did not best serve every moment of film that occurred beforehand. The horror flourishes do stay wonderfully consistent, between omniscient pentagrams, chainsaw tricks, and grizzled gardeners et al. It just needed to do a little more than what the trailer proposed. Never easy when dodging spoilers, I suppose. Studio 666 still gets its job done right, making confident movie stars out of rock legends who were never too far out of their league in any project, or beyond their league of commendation. They feel well at home with horror comedy, and their legion of fans will be easily satisfied. Even when sticking the red-stained landing was not all too easy from them, the Foos still make it look cool, and rather loud. (C+; 3/5 Horns Up!)
Studio 666 opens in theaters February 25; rated R for strong bloody violence and gore, pervasive language and sexual content; 109 minutes.