DEATH METAL ** USA 2023 Dir: Michael Kuciak. 84 mins
Death metal is an extreme subgenre of metal music. The specific sound is easily identifiable by its use of bass-heavy guitar distortions, ear-splitting, often growled or bellowed vocals, and particular brand of compositional complexity. This musical subgenre is a perfect fit, as well as having an overlapping fanbase, with horror cinema. With Death Metal, Michael Kuciak, producer and short film director, attempts to combine these genres and fanbases in a cacophony of violence and chaos.
A Death metal band, AbyssSinister, is about to be dropped from their label, after a catastrophic European tour. The group hire a legendary Producer and hole up inside a remote farm house to record a brand-new album to rejuvenate their careers. Ivan, the lead guitarist, plans to incorporate The Devil’s Concerto, a demented, mythological piece of music, which drives the listener insane. The band start work on the album and quickly discover that the concerto is truly the work of pure evil.
In 2022, Dave Grohl and the rest of the Foo Fighter boys also tried to amalgamate music and horror and although this is not a new impulse, with Trick Or Treat (1986), The Lords Of Salem (2012) and Lords Of Chaos (2018) making similar attempts, they discovered that bloodstained vinyl does not equal art. The gravest mistake a horror filmmaker can make, is taking his material too seriously when the concepts are absurd, outlandish and downright silly. Elevated Horror has garnered critical and financial success over the last decade by playing the storylines straight and serious, but the appeal of bonkers horror like Re-Animator (1985), Slither (2006) and Malignant (2021) remain intact due to the undercurrent, if not blatant focus, on tongue-in-cheek humour. The filmmakers are aware of the absurd nature of their premise and give a knowing wink to their audience. Kuciak is either unaware of the ridiculousness of his material or is unable to insert any nuanced fun into his supernatural plot.
Gorehounds will find some entertainment in one singular kill, but the make-up design on the reanimated band members are top notch. The Hellraiser-esque elements are a nice touch. These elements, however, are underutilized and undercooked within the context of the storyline. There is no fun in the kills and no internal logic, with the viewer left befuddled with a number of creative decisions made by the director, including a strange extra-terrestrial, alien abduction inspired sequence that feels so out of place that its almost whiplash inducing.
That said, there is potential here. The horror-music trope is a deep well of cinematic opportunity, but the script of Death Metal is flat and uninspired, with acting performances that are forgettable. Kuciak and his crew shouldn’t be too hard on themselves though, as Grohl and the boys had no better success themselves.
Review by Louis Du Toit
DEATH METAL is out now on Blu-ray (Region FREE) in the USA from VIPCO & BayView Entertainment.