‘Studio 666’ Review: Not the best, but good enough

Studio 666
Open Road

Rock star vanity projects were, and apparently still are, a hell of a thing, and the genre’s growing atomization and — dare I say, irrelevance, at least in terms of a paucity arena-filling acts — means we’re getting less and less of them as time goes on, at least cinematically. That domain has been ceded to hip-hop, with whatever the hell Ye is doing every few months on IMAX screens around the country providing the closest substitute, and it was genuinely surprising when Foo Fighters, who are a band I’ve never had much love for (outside of “Everlong,” that song is a banger), announced that they were wide-releasing Studio 666, a horror film meant to accompany their 10th record, which served as a kind of “quarantainment” for them and their collaborators over the back-half of the pandemic. What’s even stranger than that is that the film itself, directed by Mike McDonnell and co-written by the writer of the Pet Sematary remake, is actually pretty solid. Importantly, the film doesn’t ask you to be a Foo Fighters mega-fan in order to appreciate it as a horror movie, though that certainly probably wouldn’t hurt things. I believe it was Howard Hawks that said that a movie needs “three good kills, two solid laughs, and no bad songs” in order to be successful, and by that measure, Studio 666 succeeds. I could be wrong about that quote, but, more importantly, it goes hard.

As previously mentioned, Studio 666 documents the fictional making of the Foo Fighters’ 10th record, which their manager, played by now-canceled Curb Your Enthusiasm vet Jeff Garlin, is demanding that they finally get their shit together and record after a lengthy hiatus. Dave Grohl (Dave Grohl) thinks that the group should get their Zeppelin-in-the-church moment and find a suitably metal place to record (it is honestly pretty funny how hard this film wants the Foos to be metal, especially with the vaguely heavy shit that they start playing later on in the film, a marker of Grohl’s continued enthusiasm for a genre he doesn’t really participate much in), and their manager finds them an Encino mansion, complete with pool and sordid past. The only problem is that Dave’s got writer’s block, and no good way to unclog the pipes that can come from this natural realm. His bandmates, each of whom is trying their best with the whole “acting” thing, try to have his back, but nothing seems to work. But the super-natural provides a solution: Dave discovers a weird torture chamber and sacrificial alter in the basement that also comes with some pretty awesome shit on the reel-to-reel, and gets possessed by the same demon that drove a previously-successful rock band from the ’90s to murder-suicide in the exact same house. His demeanor changes, the recording session goes on and on to Sleep levels of song-length, and suddenly, folks start dying in terrible ways.

The overriding ethos of Studio 666 seems to be “We didn’t have to go this hard, but we did.” Did the Foo Fighters need to be this genially self-effacing in their humor? No, which makes the vanity project aspects of McDonnell’s film feel less precious and much more fun. Did it really have to be two hours long? Well, probably not, and that’s really the one thing keeps this from being more than just a mildly pleasant surprise, as supposed to the inside-the-park horror home run of “I can’t believe I bought a ticket to this and holy shit, this is great — and I hate the fucking Foo Fighters!” vibes. There’s basically an hour between the first and second kills, which the goofy and jocular vibes between the bandmates can only forestall so much boredom, especially if one isn’t a total devotee of all things Foo. Did they really need to pay John Carpenter to write a theme for the film and appear in it? They’re musicians, right? Well, they did. Did they need to stack this film with an excessive — and practically realized — series of gory kills? Probably not, honestly, but good on Grohl and company for basically transfiguring the wet dreams of a certain breed of Pitchfork writer back in, like, 2007 into celluloid entertainment. You can be pretty much guaranteed that the one person you know will survive will, but everyone else is on the metaphorical-and-literally chopping block, and they spare little for folks like me, who assumed that this would be a protectionist brand-sealing exercise rather than a relatively bona fide splatter picture.

Did they really have to make it somewhat meaningful, as well? There’s an entire line of thought within Studio 666 that feels kind of gauche to pull at, one related to Grohl’s past with one of the most iconic rock bands of the ’90s, of which he is the only surviving member in the cultural consciousness, no matter how much Krist Novoselic tries to convince us that he’s a political influencer. McDonnell, his co-writers, and Grohl resist the temptation to make the film about capital-t “Trauma” within the text itself, but anyone with a pair of brain cells and a desire to start rubbing them together to see what sparks they can let fly can see how a story about “selling out” and its relation to the suicide-driven collapse of an influential ’90s band — as well as the film’s ending, which is surprising in how bleak it is in that context — might have some measure of significance to those involved in its creation. Now, even though Nick Bloomfield’s ears might have perked up at the implications of those last lines, I don’t mean to suggest a conspiratorial element to any of this, but rather that it was intentional by Grohl in making this to analyze his path to stardom, while also providing a pivot point in order to warn about the dangers of ego in creating collaborative art (without, say, indicting anyone, past or present, for what they’ve done). It’s much, much more interesting than Studio 666 needed to be, and, of course, they didn’t have to go this hard, but they did. And that’s pretty cool.