'Straight Into a Storm': Film Review

Straight Into a Storm Still - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Abramorama
Strictly for devotees.

William Miller's documentary chronicles the 10-year history of the popular indie rock band Deer Tick.

"There are some haters about the name 'Deer Tick,'" admits frontman John McCauley at the beginning of William Miller's documentary about the indie folk-rock band, and these people would be well advised to avoid Straight Into a Storm. The film simply fails to provide much reason for nonfans to particularly care about the rise to cult stardom of the Rhode Island-birthed group.

While the most effective music documentaries manage to be interesting even for those viewers previously unfamiliar with their subjects, this effort will probably only please Deer Tick devotees; for all others it will most likely feel a slog. The doc revolves around the band's 10th anniversary series of shows at New York's Brooklyn Bowl, which took place more than three years ago, so it doesn't even feel particularly timely.

The main subject is McCauley, the band's lead singer-songwriter, who, in not unusual fashion for rock musicians, has evolved from a drug-and-alcohol abusing young man to an only slightly drug-and-alcohol abusing husband and father. Archival footage and interviews provide plenty of evidence of his hellraising years, but McCauley now says that he's much more responsible. He does still enjoy psychedelic drugs, but he doesn't take them all the time, he assures us. What he does take regularly is baldness medication, which he rubs on his scalp twice daily. Such is the plight of aging rockers, although he's barely past 30.

The film chronicles the band's rise from obscurity to semi-obscurity (at least in mainstream terms), incorporating concert footage ranging from early appearances in front of audiences numbering in the dozens to well-received shows at the Newport Folk Festival to their sold-out anniversary concerts at the midsize Brooklyn venue. Unfortunately, much of the concert footage is so poorly photographed and choppily edited that the band's music isn't given an effective showcase.

McCauley proves a reasonably engaging subject, but not one charismatic or articulate enough to warrant such extensive attention. A lengthy anecdote about a psychedelic drug-infused visit to Bed, Bath & Beyond will not likely supplant stories involving Led Zeppelin or The Rolling Stones when it comes to legendary rock 'n' roll debauchery. But he's at least more interesting than the other bandmembers, such as drummer Dennis Ryan, whose account of his reasons for writing a song about serial killer John Wayne Gacy doesn't inspire confidence in the band's lyrical depth.

The documentary also includes numerous interviews with various friends, colleagues and former members of the band that prove strictly of the typical variety, with many predictable paeans to the quality of Deer Tick's songs and the indomitable work ethic that has fueled the band through a decade of relentless touring. But while the group certainly seems to deserve the success it's achieved, that doesn't make Straight Into a Storm engrossing viewing.

Production companies: Terzo Creative, The Hidden Fortress
Distributor: Abramorama
Director: William Miller
Producers: Jason Diamond, Josh Diamond, William Miller, Ryan Henriquez, Liz Eisenberg, David Air, Rachel Kamrasch
Executive producers: Scott Edmundson, Jonathan Hardy, Michael Hurley
Directors of photography: William Miller, Soopum Sohn
Editors: William Miller, Chris Lechler

102 minutes