Back in February, I named Studio 666, a new film by the vanguards of rock, Foo Fighters, as my “Redemption Reel” for that month’s edition of “This Film is Not Yet Watchable.” However, between my work and the Oscar Blitz, I wasn’t able to get around to actually seeing it during its limited theatrical run. A mere month after its release, the band’s drummer, the legendary Taylor Hawkins, died suddenly while on tour in South America. Since the film is already available through On-Demand and Virtual Cinema services, it feels only appropriate to honor the band and Taylor by shelling out the $20 to rent it and make up for the lost time.
If you’re looking for a serious exploration of the band’s music, or of rock and roll in general, this is not the film for you. Just as advertised in its bonkers trailer, this is a goofy, spastic, at times utterly batshit horror comedy B-movie, filled to the brim with references and homages to the greats. In that respect, this works tremendously well. There are myriad flaws that prevent it from being one of the truly great films of the year, but just like Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, that is clearly not the intent, and we really should take this as its meant to be taken. It’s a love letter to the fans and to gory Hollywood slasher flicks, taking advantage of a rare opportunity to have these guys just cut loose and get silly with a bloodbath. That’s all it aspires to, and that’s all that’s needed to work its wonders.
Opening with the gory murder of Skye Willow (Jenna Ortega), the lead singer of an up-and-coming band called Dream Widow, the film already establishes its tone as referential fun, as the scene evokes many great horror films – most recently the Fear Street trilogy, itself a loving homage – and is capped off with a theme song over the credits by John Carpenter that feels like a riff on his famous Halloween melody (Carpenter also appears in a cameo as a studio engineer).
That first righteous kill takes place in 1993, then the film flashes forward to the present day, where the manager of the Foo Fighters, Jerry Shill (Jeff Garlin) of Consolidated Consumer Records – oh yeah, subtlety will NOT be this movie’s motif – is apoplectic about the band not completing their 10th studio album. Frontman Dave Grohl (the whole band plays themselves: Taylor Hawkins on drums, Nate Mendel playing bass, Rami Jaffee on keyboards, and Pat Smear and Chris “Shifty” Shiflett as two of the three guitarists along with Grohl) is suffering from a bit of writer’s block, and wants to do something epic for such a milestone record, perhaps even a concept album.
Shill, showing the worst poker face ever, calls up a real estate agent named Barb Weems (Leslie Grossman), who just happens to have the perfect location, a house in Encino that’s “filled with rock history,” which just happens to be the same house where Dream Widow was slaughtered. Dave gets flashes of disturbing imagery when he claps his hands in one of the rooms, and misinterprets it as the room having perfect acoustics. He decides on the band’s behalf to rent the place and move everyone in while they make the record.
Things start to go wrong pretty fast, as one of their roadies (Slayer’s Kerry King in a fun cameo) is mysteriously electrocuted while plugging in equipment. After the body is taken away and the death ruled an accident, everyone agrees that coming to the house was a bad idea, except for Dave, who feels a weird connection to the place, and convinces the group to stick with it as a tribute to their fallen friend.
Before long, Dave becomes completely obsessed with the album, in particular one epic song that clocks in at over 40 minutes. As he explores deeper into the house, he’s met with haunting images, demon possessions, and other morbid elements, until he creates a “new” note that he calls an L-sharp. It’s only a matter of time before the bodies start piling up.
And boy is it a delicious gore fest when it happens. I won’t spoil any of the kills (though the trailer gives away a couple), but they’re so wonderfully executed because of their low production value rather than in spite of them. The splatter (whether it be through makeup, practical effects, or CGI) is intentionally cheesy and cheap-looking, itself a tribute to the likes of Lloyd Kaufman and David Cronenberg. There’s no logic to any of the various sprays of viscera than for the sake of the visual, and it’s so giddily chintzy that you kind of have to love it.
This is the rare movie that actually enhances the very clichés they’re poking fun at. Whitney Cummings plays next door neighbor Samantha, who doubles as a sexpot groupie for Rami as well as the “mystic” character who warns the eventual victims of the evil that awaits them, and she plays it to the hilt, fully committed to the insanity. Will Forte has a small role as a relatively innocent bystander/doe-eyed fanboy who ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time. The lore behind the eventual massacre is basically a pastiche of The Cabin in the Woods and The Evil Dead series, right down to a knockoff Necronomicon. I can’t even institute my “Jump Fail” policy, because the overabundance of bad jump scares is part of the parody.
It’s all so gloriously schlocky, and that’s what makes it so fun. Seeing an enhanced version of one of the best kills from the first two Friday the 13th movies is a meta blast. The groaner one-liners are a tremendous mix of cringe dialogue delivered with a straight face and dad jokes. The sheer number of “fuck you”s directed by various members of the band at each other feels like it’s straight out of Kevin Smith. And through it all, the band gets to have fun with the old trope that rock and roll is “devil music” and the sadly all too real modern trope that rock is dead, buried by the corporate pop machine.
But what really works is that whether you’re a fan of the group or not, everyone has a distinct personality. This is very much Dave Grohl’s movie, because it was his idea, but each of the six members has their moments. Pat eats snacks and can’t find a place to sleep. Chris is so nice and understanding to everyone that it only pisses them off. Rami becomes a complete hippie. Nate is pragmatic, calling out all the horror movie trappings the band seems to find themselves in. Taylor is dedicated to the cause, but well over the bullshit. They all complement one another so well that at times the movie feels like an R-rated Scooby-Doo episode, in the best way possible. None of these guys is a particularly good actor, but they’re still believable as a group of buddies hanging out, and that’s all that really matters.
That’s because the band has spent nearly three decades together, working and living as family. This film was made completely in secret while the band was recording their 10th album, Medicine at Midnight, which of course fucking slays. The small cast and the singular location allowed for the tiny production to even operate during the COVID pandemic with little interference. Just for good measure the band recorded a second album for the fictional Dream Widow, which released on Friday after Hawkins’ death.
This movie is six best friends having fun together, doing something experimental and jovial while also proving what great artists they are. The fact that Taylor Hawkins is now gone for real renders the film (and its closing track, “Love Dies Young”) as unintentional elegy to their bond as bandmates, family, and creators. Over the course of two years, a group of friends went to a house in Encino, shot the shit, recorded two albums, and just for good measure, made a silly B-movie in tribute to the slasher films that they all enjoyed. That the fantasy is now so quickly shattered is tragic, but also a crucial reminder of how fleeting life is, so it’s essential to embrace the light moments whenever you can. The circle will always break eventually, and memories of insignificant romps like this will become all the more critical.
Rest well, Taylor. Thank you for everything.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? Do you enjoy it when musicians try their hand at acting? What’s your favorite Foo Fighters song? Let me know!