American Satan (2017)

A starting band with members from the US and the UK moves to Los Angeles to make it big. Living in their van, they work hard to get their start on the Sunset Strip. After a chance encounter with a mysterious man, things start to fall into place, but there is a price to pay.

Written by Ash Avildsen and Matty Beckerman and directed by Avildsen, American Satan is a rock and roll story, one of becoming adults, following one’s dreams, and doing what needs to be done to achieve this dream while also trying to remain themselves. This film takes the Hollywood music-making machine and shows one side of it mixed with a bit of what may be supernatural. The film takes this band story and makes it into one that is fairly believable. For those having read many a rock biography, a big part of the story, besides the possibly supernatural, looks to have been lifted right out of them, making good use of things said and shown in books and films about rockers and make it all feels real. The story makes good use of those records of history, those tales in building its characters and what happens to them. Yes, some of it might look or sound cliché but it doesn’t mean those things are not things that happen to bands trying to make it. The film takes all of this and mixed it with a character that may be God or Satan himself and creates a story that is entertaining and feels realistic in terms of the band and their dreams and actions.

The cast in American Satan really sells the film. They make their respective parts theirs and make the characters human. Band leader and lead character Johnny Faust (the name does make the eyes roll a bit, but it should not stop viewers from seeing this) is played by Black Veil Brides singer/songwriter Andy Biersack who does well playing a character with much the same dreams as himself. Granted this would not be much of a stretch for him, but his being a singer as well does give him a connection to the character and a way to extrapolate from personal experiences for his character. His acting here is strong and creates a powerful lead singer and leader for the group at the heart of the story. Shining next to him and giving strong performances as well are Booboo Stewart, Jesse Sullivan, and Olivia Culpo. Of course, outshining everyone and stealing every scene he’s in, Malcolm McDowell plays a charismatic character called Mr. Capricorn. His character influences more of the story and yet has few scenes. As usual, Mr. McDowell does fantastic work.

As a film about a band, American Satan has a good soundtrack. Having music by Jonathan Davis and Nicholas O’Toole of course did not hurt. Having a singer from an established band as the lead was also a very good way of insuring that. That being said, it could have been cheesy or schmaltzy, but it’s not. The film makes good use of the talent involved and makes music an extra character in the story that is a constant presence. The prevalence of music here is what will pull some viewers in and turn some off. The music is good but definitely not for everyone. However, those who it is not for will most likely avoid it based on title alone. The film also has performance scenes which look just right and sound exactly as expected from a film starring an established singer. The performances are central to some parts and important to the story and they were definitely not neglected with their scope and impact being felt through the film.

The film’s look with cinematography by Andrew Strahorn takes these scenes and seemingly inserts them in the rest of the film’s look. His work elevates the film from just another rock film to one that looks great and has the feel of an expensive music video at times and of a dramatic genre film at others. His work gives the visual their own style and presence.

American Satan is an entertaining rock horror film that leans more toward the rock angle than the horror one. Having Malcolm McDowell as the mysterious helping hand is a great choice and move, adding an appeal to the film as he always does. The choice of lead, using an actual singer gives the film more credibility. Small details are carefully planned and executed here with even tattoos looking real, some were definitely real while others may have been added, giving the characters more than just their clothes and performances to sell their presence. American Satan is a film it might take time for fans to discover but it will more than likely get a following in the next few years.