‘American Satan’ : A Film Review
So, I was lucky enough to attend a recent screening of the film American Satan in Boston this past weekend. The film is directed by Ash Avildsen (What Next, Asking Alexandria: Through Sin and Self-Destruction) and stars seasoned actors Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange, Rob Zombie’s Halloween), Denise Richards (Starship Troopers, The World is Not Enough, Wild Things), BooBoo Stewart (The Descendants, Twilight: Breaking Dawn), John Bradley (Game of Thrones), Mark Boone Junior (Memento, Batman Begins), Bill Duke (Predator, Red Dragon) as well as musicians Andy Biersack (Black Veil Brides) and Ben Bruce (Asking Alexandria). The film also stars 2012 Miss America and Miss Universe winner, Olivia Culpo.
As this was the first time it was shown in a theater as a finished product, and considering that the film doesn’t officially drop until the appropriate date of Friday, October 13, I can’t get into much detail about the film specifically regarding plot or characters aside from what’s listed on the Internet Movie Database and freely available. And even if I could, I wouldn’t because this is a film you need to see for yourself.
There is an inherent risk taken in any film where a musician is asked to act because not all of them have the chops for it. In many instances, they struggle through their lines and are relegated to reading a script instead of actually becoming a character, no matter how close that character resembles their real-life persona. This is where both Biersack and Bruce excel. Biersack gives an incredible performance, going so far as to change all of his on-stage habits in American Satan – even consciously changing the way he holds the microphone – to distance the character of Johnny Faust as much as he can from the way he himself performs as the frontman of the Black Veil Brides.
He gives his all to this role from the line reading to the facial expressions that say more than any scripted lines could; he is able to convey his thoughts through just the way his face contorts and changes based on the emotion his character is experiencing, eliminating the need for exposition. This is apparent in not only the interactions of Johnny Faust and his girlfriend Gretchen (Culpo) but also the scenes he shares with Bill Duke, Malcolm McDowell or Denise Richards, who plays his mother. Each interaction is different and realistic and makes Johnny Faust seem like a real person as opposed to a character in a script. This is a testament to not only Biersack’s acting ability but also Ash Avildsen’s directorial skills.
Bruce is naturally funny and this comes through in his portrayal of Leo Donovan, but like Biersack, he creates an entirely new persona separate and distinct from who he is in real life and with his band Asking Alexandria. He plays well off of John Bradley, who plays the band manager Ricky Rollins and channels much of his character of Samwell Tarley, bringing the awkward but endearing aspects of that character to his portrayal of Rollins. Bruce shows an emotional range I wasn’t sure he was capable of, and I’m certainly glad to be proven wrong. I went into this apprehensive because of the fact that musicians would be playing major roles; for every Justin Timberlake or Lady Gaga that makes the transition from music to movies, there is a Vanilla Ice, Jennifer Lopez or Britney Spears.
The basic plot is one we’ve seen a hundred times already and is summarized perfectly on the IMDB.com page: A young rock band, half of its members from England and half from the U.S., drops out of college and moves to the Sunset Strip to chase their dreams. However, this is where the similarities to any film you’ve seen before end. From the way Dylan James (Sebastian Gregory) becomes the band’s drummer to their initial interaction with Gabriel (Bill Duke) and the audition of Lily Mayflower (Jesse Sullivan) there is a lot of lighthearted banter between the characters.
The strength of Ash Avildsen’s directing ability is easily his ability to convey the seriousness of the moment in each scene. He has some talented actors that he’s working with, but the way he’s able to get a great performance out of those actors is remarkable. Take BooBoo Stewart as Vic Lakota, who is best known for his roles in the Disney film and television projects The Descendants. For him to turn around and be in a film like this (although he was very good in He Never Died) in a prominent position where he has a lot of screen time and manages to both blend in and stand out simultaneously is impressive. Avildsen gets some great work out of Malcolm McDowell as well in his role as Mr. Capricorn. McDowell is his usual self, drawing you in with his performance and when he is on-screen he takes over; he’s that good in this film. Avildsen also wrote this script with Matty Beckerman and it is apparent that his skill behind the camera is equaled by his skill with the written word. So many of the scenes that were so integral to both the plot and the development of the characters were done incredibly well and it worked perfectly with the actors that were cast. It’s almost like Avildsen could see how the actors would interact and how they would turn the scripted characters into real people before anyone was even cast.
A good example of this is the real chemistry between Johnny and Gretchen. You believe that they’ve been together for a long time and that they are fixtures in each others’ lives just from the brief moments at the beginning of the film. They act like a normal couple, doing the things that make it believable that they’re comfortable in their relationship together. Culpo was a pleasant surprise as well, having been credited only as “raven-haired beauty” in the film The Other Woman she shows that she has some serious skill and is not to be trifled with as an actress. She’s not just another pretty face who shows up in films because the director likes the way she looks; she can act and she proves it.
All in all, I thought this was a great film. I didn’t think it lacked anything. There was drama, tension, humor, and the acting was superb. There was conflict between the central characters as well as outside influences from every angle and depicting their struggles of the characters affected the actors in such a visceral way that it shone through onto the screen. I give American Satan a 9.5/10. I will definitely see this in theaters again, as well as pick up the home release when it is available. Do yourself a favor and make sure you see this on the big screen. The score and soundtrack are incredible, the writing, acting and directing are all fantastic.
American Satan hits theaters on October 13th.