I’m going to go out on a limb here, and suggest that – if one was to ponder what follow-up project might emerge from Game of Thrones writer and executive producer D.B. Weiss – a heavy metal-themed teen comedy would not make the top of that list. Yet here we are, with Weiss writing and producing his first feature film, and noted writer/director Peter Sollett (Raising Victor Vargas) working behind the camera. What is more, Metal Lords – a new Netflix exclusive – is pretty warm and entertaining stuff.
Hunter Sylvester (Adrian Greensmith) is a high schooler with dreams of heavy metal stardom. He has even formed his own metal band, Skullfucker, although at present it is just him and marching band drummer Kevin (Jaeden Martell). With the annual “Battle of the Bands” approaching, what Hunter needs is to find a bass player – so long as it isn’t the school’s Scottish cellist Emily (Isis Hainworth).
High school comedies are effectively a genre in themselves, with their own conventions and stereotypes paralleled with a rolling new generation of audience expectations. To a fair degree Metal Lords sits comfortable within its genre milieu: the narrative is not particularly inventive, nor are any of the plot developments going to surprise anybody. Where it excels it not in what it does, but how it does it. It works in the details and the grammar of the high school comedy to make one of the best versions of its story it can be.
For one thing there is a more grounded setting than one typically sees in teen comedy, and a less relentless obsession with sex than the norm. The film is well cast with actors that are attractive – it is Hollywood – but also believable. They all have real and sensibly-sized problems too: disagreements with parents, being awkward around people they fancy, and high school bullying. Nobody acts flawlessly, and no one behaves irredeemably. There is one key romance, and it honestly feels earned by the screenplay. Nothing gets over-played, and that makes it funnier than it would otherwise be.
The film also knows its heavy metal. It walks the walk, it features a few well-selected cameos, and name-checks the kinds of bands you expect to hear teenage metalheads to drop. Rage Against the Machine‘s Tom Morello was a music executive producer here, which explains the well-chosen musical soundtrack. The film has a proper embrace of metal as its fans see it, and it unironically celebrates the music. There is love behind Metal Heads, and whether you are a metal fan yourself or not it lifts the whole film from below and makes it a comfortable high tier teen comedy.
The films that please me the most are not simply the best-developed, or written, or directed ones. I am at my happiest when a film firmly decides what sort of movie it wants to be, and then excels at being that kind of movie. Metal Lords does a great job; I really hope it finds its audience.