Review: ‘Studio 666’ (2022), starring Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins, Pat Smear, Rami Jaffee, Chris Shiflett and Nate Mendel

February 24, 2022

by Carla Hay

Dave Grohl in “Studio 666” (Photo courtesy of Open Road Films)

“Studio 666” (2022)

Directed by BJ McDonnell

Culture Representation: Taking place in Encino, California, the horror comedy “Studio 666” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: World-famous rock band Foo Fighters temporarily live in a run-down Encino mansion with a sordid history to record their 10th album, and they have many sinister and supernatural encounters.

Culture Audience: “Studio 666” will appeal mainly to people who are Foo Fighters fans and anyone who doesn’t mind watching campy horror flicks, no matter how derivative and disjointed they are.

Pictured clockwise, from left: Nate Mendel, Pat Smear, Rami Jaffee, Chris Shiflett, Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins in “Studio 666” (Photo courtesy of Open Road Films)

“Studio 666” gets bogged down in too many dull horror stereotypes to be consistently campy fun. “Studio 666” will no doubt please people who automatically like anything from Foo Fighters, the Grammy-winning rock band whose members star as themselves in this misfire of a movie. There are Foo Fighters interviews that are funnier than what “Studio 666” fails to accomplish in being an original horror comedy for the band. There’s very little that’s original in “Studio 666,” which has silly jokes that come and go in spurts, just like all the blood and vomit that spew out in this gory movie.

Directed by BJ McDonnell, “Studio 666” was written by Jeff Buhler and Rebecca Hughes, with the screenplay based on a story idea by Foo Fighters lead singer/guitarist Dave Grohl. The movie has a simple concept of the band temporarily living in an abandoned mansion to record Foo Fighters’ 10th album. It isn’t until after they’ve moved in that they find out that the mansion has some dark secrets and is apparently haunted.

It’s yet another haunted house/demon possession movie delivered with very little imagination and intrigue, because everything in the movie just rehashes what hundreds of similar horror movies have already done. “Studio 666” could have been an edgy spoof of the music industry and the process of recording of an album, but the movie just goes down a predictable route of people getting killed off, one by one, in ways that are neither scary nor funny. This movie has practically no jump scares, and the ending drags on for too long. Predictably, the visual effects often look cheap, sloppy and unconvincing.

The opening scene of “Studio 666” shows a murder taking place in a mansion in Encino, California, in 1993. A terrified woman is crawling on the floor with her left leg bloodied and a bone sticking out of the leg. There’s recording equipment and musical instruments in the room. Nearby, the mutilated corpse of a man is on some stairs. The woman screams, “Why? We did everything!” The killer (an unidentified man) then goes in the room and bashes her head in with a weapon.

“Studio 666” then fast-forwards to the present day. Seated at an office conference table are the Foo Fighters band members: frontman Dave Grohl (the band leader), drummer Taylor Hawkins, guitarist Pat Smear, guitarist Chris “Shifty” Shiflett, bass player Nate Mendel and keyboardist Rami Jaffee. (For the purposes of this review, their characters in the movie will be referred to by their first names.)

Also in this meeting is the band’s manager Jeremy Shill (played by Jeff Garlin), who is grumpy and agitated. “Where’s my record?” he asks the band about the Foo Fighters’ 10th album. Dave points to his own head and replies, “It’s all up in here.”

Jeremy tells the band that this album can’t be delayed any longer because he’s heavily in debt and he’s tired of hearing excuses for why they haven’t done the album yet. He says to Dave about these excuses: “It all amounts to frozen shit.” This is what’s supposed to pass as an amusing joke in the movie.

Dave then says that for this album, he doesn’t want to do the same old thing and record at the same old studios. He wants to try something new. And so, Jeremy calls a real-estate colleague named Barb Weems (played by Leslie Grossman), who suggests what she says will be the perfect place for the band to record the album. It should come as no surprise that it’s the same Encino mansion where the murders happened from the movie’s opening scene. (“Studio 666” was filmed on location in Encino.)

When Barb shows the band around the mansion, the house is in a pathetic state, with a dirty swimming pool filled with leaves and other indications that the property has been neglected for a long time. Barb tries to make the house sound more attractive, when she tells the band, “This place has some serious rock and roll pedigree.” She mentions that a famous unnamed music producer used to have a recording studio there, and he used to throw wild parties in the 1970s and 1980s.

Barb then leads them to what she says is the “coolest room in the house.” Of course, it’s the room where the murders took place, but Barb doesn’t tell them this crucial fact. All she will say is that back in the 1990s, a famous band started to record an album in the house, but the group never finished the album because the band members didn’t get along with each other. Don’t expect a real explanation of what happened in that house in 1993, because the “Studio 666” filmmakers didn’t care about having intriguing story for this movie.

When the band and Barb gather in the room where the murders took place, Dave says that he senses a “weird energy” that makes him uncomfortable. He claps his hands together several times. Each time he claps, a grisly scene is shown taking place at the house that the audience can see, but that no one in the movie can see. Ultimately, Dave likes the way the acoustics sound in the room, so he and the rest of the band decide to rent the house to record the album.

Dave is so consumed with finishing the album as soon as possible that he immediately comes up with the idea that everyone in the band should move in the house to record the album. Most of the other band members gripe about it and say that Dave should be the one to tell their families about this decision. Rami, who’s depicted as the band’s oddball ladies’ man, lives with his grandmother. This leads to a not-very-funny joke where Chris tells Rami that he had sex with Rami’s grandmother. Some sex noises are edited in to conjure up this memory, and Rami blurts out: “Stay away from my bubbe!”

Soon after Foo Fighters settle in at the mansion and have their equipment set up, the band’s sound engineer/roadie Krug (played by Kerry King, former guitarist of Slayer) gets electrocuted and dies. It’s one of those “burned to a crisp” deaths—and an indication of more grisly scenes to come. This death was no accident because it was caused by an evil spirit that can shapeshift. Before this electrocution, an entity that looked like black smoke with hands lurks around the equipment, unbeknownst to the people in the house.

Dave then begins having nightmares in repetitive scenes where he seems to be in danger, but then he wakes up and finds out it’s all a dream. He’s also certain that there’s a mysterious man dressed as a house caretaker (played by Marti Matulis), who’s been lurking around the house. No one else seems to see this stranger, which makes it obvious that Dave is going to be the target of something evil. Dave’s nightmarish visions also happen during the day, such as when he’s barbecuing in the backyard, and he sees Krug’s head in the barbecue pit.

And to make matters worse for Dave, he has writer’s block and can’t seem to come up with any new songs. This is an example of the terrible dialogue in the film. Dave exclaims about his inability to concentrate: “My mind is flooded! Sometimes it’s like Prince. Sometimes it’s like Slayer. Sometimes it’s Lawrence fucking Welk.”

Not long after they arrive at the mansion, the band members meet next-door neighbor Samantha (played by Whitney Cummings), who is star-struck, flirtatious and nosy. Dave asks Samantha if she’s seen a man who’s the mansion’s caretaker. She replies, “No, Dave. This house has been empty for years.” Samantha and Rami seem to be attracted to each other, so you know where this is going, of course.

Samantha occasionally stops by for unannounced visits, but Dave thinks that she’s very annoying. As a gift, she brings some lemon bars that she says are frosted with cocaine. Dave says it’s all just a distraction, so he tells Rami to get rid of Samantha. Rami just uses it as an opportunity to let Samantha know that he’s interested in hooking up with her. These scenes could have been hilarious, but they’re just so dimwitted because the dialogue is so lackluster and boring.

Dave soon discovers an old recording studio in the house’s basement. When he plays the reel-to-reel tape, he hears heavy metal music that sounds like wannabe Black Sabbath from the 1970s. And suddenly, he doesn’t have writer’s block anymore and is inspired by what he hears.

Under Dave’s leadership, the band soon adopts this heavier and darker sound. (In real life, Foo Fighters recorded their “Studio 666” soundtrack songs under the name Dream Widow.) There’s no mystery over very what this music is supposed to represent. It isn’t long before Dave’s personality starts changing drastically, and the body count starts piling up.

One of the many ways that “Studio 666” disappoints is how it underuses the talents of the movie’s professional actors. Will Forte has a thankless and uninteresting role as a food delivery person. It’s essentially a cameo, because he’s in the movie for less than 10 minutes.

The character of Samantha is severely underdeveloped and could have been the source of some genuinely off-the-wall or cutting-edge comedy. Instead, Samantha utters mostly forgettable lines, while Cummings just mugs for the camera in this role. Lionel Richie has a brief cameo (less than two minutes) as himself, in one of the movie’s few scenes that can be considered laugh-out-loud funny. Jenna Ortega shows up in a small role toward the end of the movie. The character that she plays in the movie won’t be revealed in this review, but it’s worth mentioning that “Studio 666” is one of three 2022 horror movies that Ortega is in (“Scream” and “X” are the other two), making her quite the “scream queen” of the year.

No one is expecting the Foo Fighters members to be great actors. But for a band that is very charismatic in real life, “Studio 666” presents all of them as characters with cardboard personalities. Grohl and Jaffee are the only true standouts, because they have scenes where they get to show some wackiness that inject a little bit of spark in this tedious horror movie that waters everything down except for the gore. Grohl and Jaffee are also the two band members who look the most comfortable being actors on camera. The rest of the band members are really just bland supporting characters in their own movie and give performances that range from awkwardly stiff to trying too hard.

“Studio 666” is the type of niche horror movie that looks like it should have been released directly to video. Instead, the movie’s first release is in cinemas, but “Studio 666” is not worth seeing for the price of a movie ticket, unless people are die-hard Foo Fighters fans. People who want to see real Foo Fighters entertainment are better off watching a Foo Fighters concert to see what the band does best: Play music and not try to be movie stars in an embarrassing horror flick.

Open Road Films will release “Studio 666” in U.S. cinemas on February 25, 2022.

March 26, 2022 UPDATE: Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins has died at the age of 50. This obituary from the Associated Press has more details.

Review: ‘How It Ends’ (2021), starring Zoe Lister-Jones and Cailee Spaeny

July 21, 2021

by Carla Hay

Zoe Lister-Jones and Cailee Spaeny in “How It Ends” (Photo courtesy of MGM/American International Pictures)

“How It Ends” (2021)

Directed by Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the comedy film “How It Ends” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Hours before an impending apocalypse, a woman in her 30s sees a physical manifestation of her 15-year-old self, and together they visit people they know to say their goodbyes in case they don’t survive the apocalypse. 

Culture Audience: “How It Ends” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in “mumblecore” comedies that are self-consciously quirky in a way that will annoy some viewers.

Zoe Lister-Jones and Cailee Spaeny in “How It Ends” (Photo courtesy of MGM/American International Pictures)

The smugly oddball “How It Ends” looks and sounds like it could have been a pilot episode for a mumblecore sitcom rather than a compelling cinematic experience. In this time-wasting apocalyptic comedy, the end of the world is depicted as Los Angeles hipsters and weirdos acting as annoying as possible and thinking that they’re hilarious. You can see that on Hollywood Boulevard for free. You don’t need to pay money to see that in a movie as dull as this one.

Husband-and-wife duo Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein wrote and directed “How It Ends,” and it looks exactly like what it is: A movie that was rushed into production during the pre-vaccine COVID-19 pandemic, just so the filmmakers could brag about how they braved the pandemic to make this movie. Unfortunately, not enough time seems to have been spent on developing an interesting story for this repetitive and mostly empty-headed film.

“How It Ends” takes place in Los Angeles, just hours before an apocalypse is supposed to destroy the world. It’s never explained how people know the exact hour that this apocalypse is going to hit. But the characters in this movie are just way too calm about it, and they go about their lives as if it’s just another sunny day in California.

At least half of this movie just shows the two main characters walking from house to house, as they say goodbye to friends and assorted loved ones before the end of the world happens. Expect to see repetitive shots of people sauntering down a street as if they’re just out for a pleasant stroll before the apocalypse. And everyone they talk to just happens to be “quirky.”

The two main characters in the story are supposed to be the same person at different stages in her life. The movie opens with protagonist Liza (played by Lister-Jones), who’s in her 30s and with an unknown occupation, in her home on the morning before the apocalypse. There’s a teenage girl (played by Cailee Spaeny) jumping up and down on Liza’s bed.

Liza checks her voice messages and finds out that her friend Mandy (played by Whitney Cummings) has invited Liza to an end-of-the-world party happening that night. Liza tells the teenage girl, “Tonight, I want to get really fucking high and eat ’til I puke.” The girl in Liza’s house replies, “I can list so many problems with that idea. The first is: You’re out of weed.”

Who is this girl? Liza finds out this other person in her home is her 15-year-old self. Liza might want to roll on Ecstasy to get high, but the only thing rolling during this movie will be viewers’ eyes at the self-consciously twee absurdity of it all. Guess who’s hanging out with Liza for the whole movie? Young Liza, who’s somehow wiser and more emotionally intuitive than the older Liza.

It’s explained in the movie that Young Liza can only be seen on the last day before the apocalypse happens. And based on the advice that Young Liza gives her older self, Young Liza is supposed to embody hindsight. Young Liza also doesn’t have the emotional baggage that older Liza has, so she’s able to see things more clearly when it comes to unresolved issues in older Liza’s life.

Before Liza and her younger self go to the party, they decide to visit a series of people to say their final goodbyes. A lot of these half-baked scenes (many of them look improvised) are just filler. There are long stretches of the movie where it’s nothing but Liza and her younger self walking from place to place and encountering goofy, strange and usually very irritating people.

Wait, doesn’t everyone drive in Los Angeles if they can afford it? The movie comes up with a reason for why Liza and her teenage mini-me end up walking everywhere for more than half the movie: Liza’s car has been stolen. It’s the end of the world, so there’s no point in reporting the theft to the police. Will Liza get her car back though? That question is answered in the movie.

Most of the people whom Liza and her young self visit are the type of characters you would expect in a low-budget indie flick where the filmmakers think that it’s automatically supposed to be funny to see adults acting like immature kooks. There are the wacky neighbors in different homes, such as Derek (played by Bobby Lee), who’s a babbling stoner; Manny (played by Fred Armisen), a forgetful eccentric; and anxious Dave (played by Paul Scheer), who gets yelled at by another neighbor for not washing his recycling container.

And then there are a few people randomly performing in the middle of the street or on a sidewalk in this residential area, including a nameless stand-up comedian (played by Ayo Edebiri), who’s actually one of the few highlights of the film. Real-life singer Sharon Van Etten shows up toward the end of the film as a folksy singer named Jet, who plays acoustic guitar in the street to an enthralled audience of two: Liza and her younger self.

“How It Ends” desperately wants to be a uniquely modern film, but it uses the oldest and most cliché trope in a comedy starring a woman: She’s pining over a man because she wants him to be her romantic partner. In Liza’s case, “the one who got away” is Nate (played by Logan Marshall-Green), a former hookup whom she has deeper feelings for than she was willing to admit when he was in her life and when she emotionally pushed him away. Liza regrets shutting Nate out of her life, and she wants to see Nate again so she can tell him that she loves him before the end of the world happens.

Liza also has some unfinished business with her divorced parents Kenny (played by Bradley Whitford) and Lucinda (played by Helen Hunt), as well as her ex-boyfriend Larry (played by Lamorne Morris), who cheated on her when they were together. Liza visits all of them during this movie to tell them how she really feels. Viewers find out that she has major abandonment issues and has had a problem communicating her true feelings to the people who are closest to her.

But the best and funniest encounter that Liza has is with an estranged friend named Alay (played by Olivia Wilde), who’s just as neurotic as Liza is. Liza and Alay have a rapid-fire conversation where they talk over each other about what went wrong in their friendship (they fell out because Alay didn’t approve of Larry), and they call a truce—because of, you know, the apocalypse.

Alay eats a very decadent-looking cake during this conversation and says she’s a psychic. What does she see in Liza’s afterlife future? Alay says, “Timothée Chalamet and lots of dairy with no consequences.” Sounds like heaven for a lot of people.

If only “How It Ends” had more of this type of laugh-out-loud comedic scene with Wilde and Lister-Jones, because they have such natural and appealing chemistry with each other. Maybe they can co-star in another movie someday. Hopefully, it would have a better screenplay and more exciting direction than what’s in “How It Ends.”

But for every scene like the rip-roaring one with Wilde, there are five or six more scenes in “How It Ends” that are just so tedious and downright cringeworthy. For example, when Liza goes to her ex-boyfriend Larry’s home, it’s a retro ripoff with derivative ideas: She holds up a boombox (just like John Cusack famously did in the 1989 movie “Say Anything”), and then she quotes the chorus of Alanis Morissette’s 1995 hit “You Oughta Know.”

And there’s some self-pitying drivel, such as when Liza and her younger self have an argument with each other. Liza wants to ditch her younger self and continue on her own, because she thinks Young Liza doesn’t count as her real self. Young Liza shouts, “I do count! All your life, you’ve been licking your fucking wounds, when I’m the biggest wound of all!” Oh, boo hoo. Did anyone bring any tissues?

Lister-Jones and Spaeny previously worked together in the disappointing 2020 horror film “The Craft: Legacy,” which was written and directed by Lister-Jones and starred Spaeny as a teenage witch who joins a coven of other teen witches. The chemistry between Lister-Jones and Spaeny in “How It Ends” is more like older sister/younger sister as two different people, rather than entirely convincing as two versions of the same person. One of the takeaways from the movie is that Liza looks physically older than her younger self, but she hasn’t emotionally matured very much since she was a teenager.

Spaeny makes some attempt to mimic certain mannerisms that older Liza would have had in her teen years. And there are times that Liza and her younger self do things in snyc when they’re walking down the street. However, the movie looks like it was filmed so quickly that Spaeny and Lister-Jones didn’t have enough time to do work on body language and speech patterns that are more subtle and nuanced.

“How It Ends” is not so off-putting that it won’t find its share of people who will love this movie. There’s a very specific type of viewer who automatically thinks any movie that reeks of being self-congratulatory “quirky” is something that’s worth admiring. But for people who prefer their comedies to actually be funny and have a significant plot, you’ll have to look elsewhere, because “How It Ends” comes up very short in these elements and is mostly just a series of poorly conceived vignettes.

MGM’s American International Pictures released “How It Ends” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on July 20, 2021.

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