Movie Review: AMERICAN SATAN (2017)

I was this close to selling my soul to the devil for infinite Taco Bell before watching AMERICAN SATAN, and now I’ve got to say… I still really, really want a Cheesy Gordita Crunch- regardless of how bad of an idea it is.

Seriously though, that’s a bad idea.

Co-written and directed by Ash Avildsen, son of the late, great Rocky director, John G. Avildsen, AMERICAN SATAN chronicles the rise of a new band called The Relentless, after being emotionally manipulated into a deal by a mysterious stranger who continues to engage them about their potential. When their success takes a sudden, upward swing, their music, altercations, and personal lives begin to influence society in ways they never expected.

Director Avildsen has crafted a film that showcases the high octane lifestyle of being a popular musician, delivering the enticing thrills of sex, drugs, and rock and roll without sacrificing the cautionary tale at the heart of his story. The film balances these conflicting notions seamlessly, alternately exploring the heads and tails that come with the sacrificing for your dreams: the sacrifice of reputation, the sacrifice of relationships, and ultimately, the sacrifice of yourself.

Through Avildsen’s firm understanding of the music scene, as well as the stellar cinematography by Andrew Strahorn, AMERICAN SATAN breathes comfortably as both a psychedelic thriller and a compelling “biographical” drama. The music itself, too, fantastically serves the tone and atmosphere of the flick, with Korn’s Jonathan Davis providing the tunes alongside Nicholas O’Toole. The soundtrack kicks an equal amount of ass as the movie, and hard rock fans are going to dig the hell out of it.

The film doesn’t work, though, if we aren’t given a compelling and believable cast to portray our rockstar characters. While a few featured performances are noticeably less enthusiastic, the leads, fortunately, carry Avildsen’s vision to incredible success. Andy Biersack, the lead vocalist of Black Veil Brides, is especially great, providing AMERICAN SATAN with surprising dramatic chops as the flawed vocalist of The Relentless, Johnny Faust. The character is layered in such a way that we feel his good intentions, even when he makes dumb, human mistakes. The imperfectness, heart, and determination of the character make Johnny incredibly relatable, regardless if you want to move to Cali and be a rockstar, or follow life’s simpler dreams. Biersack proves to be a perfect vessel for the Faust, and I was blown away by his performance.

The film also features stellar work from veteran actors such as Malcolm McDowell. McDowell is handed a deliciously evil character to occupy, and he’s having an obvious blast delivering the biting, tongue-in-cheek humor provided by the script, all the while highlighting the intimidating menace we’ve come to expect from the actor. Mark Boone Junior, too, nails the underlying humor of AMERICAN SATAN as the knowledgeable, no-bullshit music producer. He’s heavily featured throughout the film, and it benefits from his screen time.

Much like its characters, however, the film remains imperfect. The budget undercuts the biographical approach at times, resulting in news segments and interviews that come across slightly cheesy. In addition to this, a few of the performances and plot threads feel forced and melodramatic, and many of the ways that society is influenced by the band are incredibly unrealistic. Despite these flaws, though, AMERICAN SATAN is a terrifically thrilling, darkly funny, and stinging satire about the music industry and just how far we’re willing to go to find success. Don’t miss it.

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