Warning: This review may contain traces of spoilers, and may have come into contact with spoilers from other movies.
Indie director Rob Stefaniuk, who made a name for himself as the writer, director and star of 2004’s Phil the Alien, fills all three roles once again in his latest film Suck – a vampire rock musical comedy road movie that is destined to be an even bigger cult hit than Phil the Alien was.
Suck follows a struggling rock band ironically calling themselves the Winners as they start their North American road tour. Unfortunately for them, their drunken manager (played by Kids in the Hall alumni Dave Foley) quits after their first gig and their bass player and leading man’s ex-girlfriend, the lovely Jennifer (Jessica Pare), is seduced by a vampire and transformed into one herself! Trying to keep things on track, and noticing some strange changes taking place in Jennifer, it’s up to band leader Joey (Rob Stefaniuk, showing off his singing talent) to make sure that the tour stays on track. He sees the tour as his last chance at fame, and already being “thirty pounds of junk food and a retail job away from killing himself,” he’s not going to let anything stand in his way of making it big…not even the vampire bassist who is having a hard time controlling her supernatural urge to feed.
The film lets you know exactly what kind of ride you’re in for right from the opening shot, as a jittery stop-motion bat flies through the city to the tune of a blazing rock guitar riff. In fact, this opening shot highlights two of the film’s greatest strengths: its soundtrack and its visual style. Being a rock musical sets the bar pretty high as far as the quality of the songs goes – Repo! The Genetic Opera, while a great idea, didn’t have many memorable numbers (in my opinion, anyway), for example – but Suck manages to fill the soundtrack with really enjoyable tunes that cover a wide range of music. I wish I could find a listing of all the song titles so that I could recommend them by name, but stand outs definitely include “This is Your Brain on Drugs,” sung by Joey after unwittingly taking two pills of ecstasy, “I’m Coming to Get You,” and “She Nearly Killed Me Tonight” (at least I think that’s the title), the number following Joey’s discovery that Jennifer has become a vampire. Amazingly, even though the film is populated by a who’s who of music talent – Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, Henry Rollins and Moby all have secondary roles – non of the big names do any of the singing. This actually works in the movie’s favour, though, as it puts the focus squarely on the Winners, and they rock pretty hard.
The film’s visual style is terrific. A reoccuring highlight is the tour map, drawn in scrawling, splattered ink in a sort of Ralph Steadman style, which charts the band’s progress on their tour with a stop-motion hearse (the Winners’ choice of transportation). The owner of the map is the band’s French-Canadian roadie Hugo (played by Chris Ratz, who manages to steal the show away from even Alice Cooper) – filling the role of the Renfield character from Dracula movies. As Hugo goes slowly insane, the scribbles on the map become more and more crazy, charting the band’s descent into madness perfectly. Another terrific moment worth metioning is the flashback scenes with Malcolm McDowell (yep, he’s in this too), wherein the filmmakers actually use footage of a young McDowell from his film O Lucky Man! While they tried to pull a similar stunt in the film Goldmember using old footage of Michael Caine, the way the filmmakers pull off the flashbacks here looks so good that it actually makes you pause and wonder if they did it using CGI or some other Forrest Gump-like trick.
Since I’ve already mentioned most of the cast, now would probably be a good time to give them the respect they deserve. The cast is great. Everyone turns in solid performances that succeed in making their characters believable, which is important in a movie, more important in a crazy rock musical, and doubly so in a crazy rock musical featuring vampires. The tongue-in-cheek tone helps this along, but it’s really the performance of Stefaniuk in the leading role that grounds the film for the audience. Joey is an everyman loser, longing to make something of himself but lacking the responsibility necessary for it to happen. He’s pretty thick and prone to making very bad decision, but you can’t help but like him. Jessica Pare plays the vampy Jennifer perfectly, and looks like a Hollywood starlet whenever the camera switches into slow motion. The already praised Chris Ratz is terrific as Hugo the roadie, and the two other band members Tyler and Sam (Paul Anthony and Mike Lobel) do a great job at making the band feel real. It seems like every secondary role in this film is filled by someone famous, as Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, Henry Rollins, Moby, and even Rush’s Alex Lifeson make appearences. Malcolm McDowell rounds off the cast as Eddie Van Helsing the one-eyed vampire killer. Needless to say, this all makes for a great show.
Suck follows the tradition of Canadian band-on-the-road movies, the groundwork of which has been laid out by Bruce McDonald in his films Roadkill, Hard Core Logo and Highway 61. As far as tone, Suck is definitely closest to Highway 61, with Alice Cooper filling the Mr. Skins role this time around. It’s a really enjoyable piece of Canadian cinema, and I recommend it to any and all fans of rock and roll.
4 out of 5