We die. Then what? Is that it? “That’s it!” says the B love-story girl who offers herself as a living sacrifice to the larger possibilities of this world in Electric Jesus’s dark night of the soul. But is she talking about the finality of death? Or the immortality of music? How songs sometimes have a tendency to live longer than their singers? About the weird atemporality of that art form whose substance is time, plus song? Or is she just announcing the end of the movie? Credits roll after she says it. Intradiegetically, the subtext of what the film’s lead actress (Shannon Hutchinson) is saying here is that, “The song I was just singing has now been sung.”
The whole movie is like that: hitting on about four conflicting—then sometimes surprisingly harmonizing—registers all at once, every moment. Shannon Hutchinson’s voice alone is worth coming out for. This is a voice that will give you gooseflesh. It might make the hair stand up on the back of your neck at certain moments during the course of the film. It will recall to you the great female lead singers of old time country, and the hymn-singing nameless church soloists of Appalachia who came before them. The movie didn’t need her—it was already going to be funny and gut-wrenching. The soundtrack was already going to be epic. But they got her. And, like a mostly adult Christian Hairmetal band showing up in full-metal costume with arena-scaled gear to play a gig at a Church Sleepaway Camp, she brought it.
Wyatt Lenhart’s vocals are equally evocative of the spectrum of male lead-singers that runs from Sammy Hagar through Axl Rose.*
The soundtrack—both Christian Hairmetal tracks and Norwegian Deathmetal songs are composed and arranged by the accomplished outsider artist Daniel Smith of the Danielson Family, with lyrics by the writer & director—is an indication of the film’s ambiguity and consummate artistry. The ratio of soundtrack to dialog here is unusually high for a psychologically complex comedy drama—so high that it’s just short of being a full-on rock opera. This eccentric balance works out well.
In terms of the soundtrack, the performances, and the writing the artillery that this film brings to bear is absurdly out of proportion to the size of the audience it can ever hope to achieve unless we hope against hope. And that is also it’s beauty and honesty. Electric Jesus manages to say something about the existential dilemma of the performing arts in general in a post-COVID world on top of everything else that it’s doing.
Which is quite a lot.
If you must know, Christian Metal doesn’t survive its first-contact/deathmatch with Scandinavian Death Metal in an authentically boozy rock club packed with adult metalheads. Or does it? Probably not. That is a historical fact. Isn’t it? It was a mythological event, but it was one of the ones that actually happened. Wasn’t it?
It seems like maybe it did happen. It certainly happens in this film. And that’s just ten minutes of a film that is exquisitely, intimately painful while also being consistently hilarious for 107 minutes. You will laugh. You might cry etc. It’s the whole smorgasbord of human emotions set to a suitably anthemic hairmetal soundtrack.
If Brian Baumgartner (“Kevin” from The Office) has thus far thrived in roles where his mere physical presence in the scene causes everything around him to turn suddenly somewhat suspect if not highly dubious, then his role as the badly toupéed tour manager, press agent and bus driver of the Christian Metal Band protagonist in this film may represent some kind of a formal pinnacle for the expression of that specific capacity of his talent. He could just stand there in that toupee and we would know everything we need to know: something is not quite right here, but maybe it doesn’t matter. But maybe it does and so on X ad infinitum.
Andrew Eakle, the band’s roadie and film’s narrator, has—like the sound guys of old—a difficult and inglorious job: being the straight white male voice making a heartfelt argument for Christian Hairmetal in 1986 in a movie that is actually being released in the year 2021. With the help of the film’s co-lead protagonist Shannon Hutchinson, and a gifted screenwriter, he snatches victory from the jaws of defeat by the skin of his teeth in this respect. Well done.
The nostalgia factor in this film can be summed up as follows: Not only is it quite possible to imagine that the Christian Hairmetal band in this film this existed in 1986, we know that they did. It is impossible, however, to imagine that such a band could exist after the advent of social media. In other respects, the movie is surprisingly contemporary.
- Thomas Kennedy