Grey Metal is a psychological horror film. The story is centered on a young heavy metal fan who thinks he is possessed by a devil. Maybe he is. Or maybe it's something else ...
Nathaniel's mother mysteriously disappeared when he was 9 years old. Ever since he has retreated deeper into the netherland of heavy metal music. It's his own private dream world; a way to avoid the problems of everyday life. His vicious father, Jayce makes Nat's life hell. And Nat is stuck at home with no job. No money. No car. As he becomes increasingly isolated in an outer-suburban wasteland, he starts to hear voices in the subsonic drone of household appliances: they urge him toward desperate acts. Nat starts to believe he is becoming demonically possessed. At first he is scared by this - until he meets an older woman, Alannah with whom he has a psychic connection. Nat discovers that not all possession is evil. With the help of supernatural forces, he embarks to fight the real demon in his life.
Writer/director/producer - Philip Brophy
Producer - Daniel Scharf
Cinematographer - Michael Williams
Score & sound design - Philip Brophy
What is heavy metal music? For most, its excessive and gaudy qualities befit the parodying received in Spinal Tap. But for serious fans of metal – many isolated in their outer-suburban wastelands – metal is their sonic escape hatch to another dimension. Lyrically, metal speaks volumes to its audience. Identity and selflessness, desperation and aspiration, loneliness and empowerment are thematically woven through the crassest metal in ways felt deeply by fans of the music. And there are many metal fans.
Few films speak to this large and sprawling audience. Most teen movies celebrate harmless enough thrills and surging pubescent love. Within such a world, the metal kid is usually the outsider, the loner, the freak. Horror movies synch better to the metal psyche. Their theatrical violence holds direct appeal to kids fuelled by the apocalyptic scenarios of metal music.
Grey Metal is a horror movie for metal kids predisposed to the supernatural and its links to dark mystical forces. The drama focuses on how a metal kid grapples with this eruption of otherworldly forces into his everyday life, and how he mentally adjusts to the traumatising yet seductive nature of becoming possessed. In depicting, extending and resolving these tensions, Grey Metal presents the family as monstrous and the demonic as comforting – just as it is in heavy metal music.
Grey Metal is a meld of naturalistic teen drama with paranormal overlays. As the psychic dimension is opened wider, the film transforms into heightened psychological horror. Like the best of metal, the emotional build-up is purposely hysterical and overblown. Think Lost Highway meets Carrie scored by Metallica. Grey Metal is aimed at creating relevant escapism for one of cinema’s most underexploited audiences.
Nat is like many fans of heavy metal music: thin, late teens, unemployed. Fresh out of school – four years ago. Not into doing sports. Not into making money. Nat is reclusive at home – pathologically so. His father Jayce recently turned forty and is now living with a girlfriend in her early 20s, Sam. The sexual tension at home is unbearable to Nat. Nat’s mother disappeared some years back, leaving a large hole in Nat’s life. Jayce hollows it further by taunting Nat and parading Sam in front of him. Deep down, Nat has always suspected that Jayce had something to do with his mother’s disappearance.
Jayce is a hardened criminal. The family income derives from occasional armed robberies of small banks. Jayce is cunning enough to plot them intermittently so as to earn a stable wage. Sam obtains info about Armaguard pick-up schedules from an inside contact.
Disturbingly, Jayce takes pleasure in terrorising female bank employees. One such victim of his torment is Alannah: a large woman in her mid-40s. Her nervousness turns Jayce on to such an extent that he shoots his gun past her ear at close range, causing permanent ear-drum damage in her left ear.
Nat strives to know little about Jayce’s activities. He narrows his world view into heavy metal music as a means of escaping his domestic hell. He practices drumming to his favourite songs in an empty pre-fab factory in the middle of a failed industrial park. With headphones on and eyes wide shut, he works out his frustrations pummelling the drums, transporting himself to a euphoric plateau within his fevered imagination.
Alannah recovers from the bank attack while on workers’ compensation. She trains at a gymnasium to fix her loss of balance since becoming partially deaf. Her major pain is still hearing the reverberation of Jayce’s gun shot ringing continually in her left ear. Finding it hard to hear others speak, she finds solace through the silence of living in a family house by herself. She ritually cleans the house, including the bedroom of what appears to be a son – whom we never see.
Nat meanwhile is suffering from an increasing insomnia. Sleeping during the day, he gets to avoid his family life as much as possible, but the night quiet ushers in a new terror. Nat is convinced he hears voices coming from deep within the subsonic drone of the family fridge. He denies it at first, blasting heavy metal on his headphones to drown out the voices.
Nat’s only friends in the world are Donny – a few years younger, an endearing kid who fantasises starting a metal group with Nat – and Ron, owner of the local music shop, Metalia. Ron has allowed Nat to work for over a year now on work experience in the shop. In his late 40s, Ron is the only adult Nat respects. Ron encourages Nat’s natural skill in tuning drums: he is unusually sensitive to harmonic vibrations.
Returning from Metalia one day, Nat has a vision of his dead mother in the middle of an empty field near the industrial park. She speaks but he can’t hear her words. He is overwhelmed by a conviction that she was murdered by his father. This weighs heavy on his mind, intensifying his insomnia. Consequently, the fridge voice is becoming more direct. It mocks Nat’s lack of power and his debilitating situation, urging him towards desperate and wilful action. Nat fights hard against the fridge’s directives, while becoming enraged by his father’s ongoing violence and Sam’s sexual presence.
Alannah meanwhile is becoming distressed by the ringing in her ear. It has started to build in intensity, particularly at night. She too experiences insomnia. Furthermore, mysterious psycho-kinetic occurrences appear to be occurring in the background of her home environment. Alannah is concerned she is starting to lose her grip on reality. Her doctor suggests she return to work to occupy her mind.
Soon, the fridge and Nat’s mind are inseparable. In amplified whirls of delusion, he is torn between a strange comfort he finds with the fridge’s dialogue, and an inner suppressed rage at his father. One night drinking with Donny in a storm water tunnel, Nat is convinced he must kill Donny in order to prove his own murderous capacity to battle his father head-on. While strangling Donny, he sees his mother deep in the tunnel. Again, she speaks wordlessly to him as she floats forward. Donny manages to escape, saving Nat from carrying out this uncontrolled crime. Nat is devastated that he almost killed his friend, and is scared by how much the fridge voice is controlling him.
In a desperate measure to confront his inner demons, Nat pushes his father to explain his mother’s disappearance. With monstrous coldness, Jayce acknowledges killing her – and dares Nat to do something about it. Jayce mocks Nat further, intimating that he holds the real power in the house, not Nat. Nat attempts to take solace with the fridge that night – but its growling intonations have ceased. Nat now feels utterly alone.
Nat wanders around the next few weeks in a daze. He has stopped going to Metalia since having a heated argument with Ron. Now Nat has taken to drinking at night. One hung-over day he cashes in his dole cheque at the local bank and accidentally touches the hand of the teller: Alannah. He is stuck to her hand while she simultaneously experiences an intense vibration surging through her body. Nat rips his hand back in shock, and runs from the bank. Alannah is shocked – but responds positively: there was something about Nat’s vibrations which could unlock her own problems.
That night, the fridge voice returns and speaks to Nat. The voice is perfectly clear now, telling him that he is entering a new phase of his powers. Nat can feel the energy within him and is excited by this new development. He is starting to accept the state of his possession. Jayce suddenly interrupts Nat’s reverie with the fridge; the fridge voice stops. Jayce mocks Nat as usual – but this time Nat stands up to him. Jayce is bemused – until Nat displays an unreal energy as he forces his father to the ground. After Nat leaves, a wave of anger overcomes Jayce following this humiliation: he lets forth with an unearthly howl of rage.
When Nat stops by Metalia, Ron is happy to see him after their estrangement. Nat explains that he’s been hearing voices and everything is better now. Ron warns Nat to not take the metal mythology too seriously: it’s only music. Nat agrees: its pure energy. Nat leaves; Ron is mystified.
Nat drums at the empty factory. He feels free, heightened, omnipotent. Alannah has tracked Nat down through Metalia. She turns up and watches him drum. Oblivious to her, he performs an amazing solo. Moving outside, they sit near the monolithic electrical towers which overshadow the industrial park. Looking toward the twinkling lights of the city in the distance, Nat and Alannah open up to each other. Nat details his own loneliness, and in the process realises he has to make up again with his friend Donny. Alannah tells him of her own son who ran away from home many years ago when he was only fifteen: she is now a single mom without a son.
Nat returns home elated by his new sense of energy but also calmed by his dialogue with Alannah. But there a surprise awaits him: Sam’s step-daughter Siobhan – a Goth chick in her late teens – is there and will be staying for a few weeks. Her presence causes a change in the family dynamic; Sam is particularly happy to have her there. Even Jayce is toned down – perhaps partly by Nat standing up for himself.
Over the next week, Siobhan and Nat grow closer. They exchange stories, open to each other, and Siobhan urges Nat to make up with Donny, He does, and the three of them become a tight group. They go to gigs, drink in the industrial parks late at night, and generally feel good with each other. Siobhan shows them her paintings; Nat impresses them with his drumming; even Donny is set to undertake a night school course in electronics.
This leaves Nat feeling he can broach the issue with Jayce of how fractured their home life has been since Nat’s mum disappeared. Jayce convincingly assures Nat that was screwing with Nat’s mind by claiming to have killed his mum. This makes Nat see Jayce differently, and establishes some substantial trust between them. Later, Nat talks with Siobhan and confides that he feels more optimistic about things than he has ever felt before. He is committed to trying to make his family situation work well for everyone.
But Siobhan never takes things at face value. She determines to find out more about Jayce because there has always been something about him which she found unconvincing. Of her own accord, she shadows Jayce one day and observes his distasteful sexual appetite: this clearly is not a man bent on making good for his family. Late one night at the house, Jayce reveals his hidden brooding demeanour directly to Siobhan. He intimidates her in a cat and mouse display that exposes his unchanging psychotic disposition. This greatly unsettles Siobhan, but she feels uncomfortable about telling either Sam or Nat about it.
The next day, Siobhan leaves the household under the pretext of preparing a folio for submission to art school. Nat is upset but supports her commitment to her art. That night, Alannah experiences a return of psycho-kinetic occurrences at her house. She is overcome with a feeling of unease and instantly thinks of Nat …
Alannah turns up to Nat’s warehouse, but Nat seems fine. Alannah insists that there is some fierce negative energy surrounding them. Suddenly, Nat has another vision of his dead mom. Alannah cannot see the vision, but she feels the energy field now surrounding Nat. Nat’s mother is mouthing unheard words again. Nat screams at her to speak to him. She moves closer to him than before. Nat becomes hysterical – then stops as he starts slowly levitating. Alannah grabs him and is instantly hurled away and knocked unconscious as she hits the factory wall. The vision of Nat’s mum sails off into the night. Nat is lowered back to the ground; he runs after her …
Nat’s mother disappears into Nat’s home. He cautiously enters to find Jayce vomiting on the floor. He stands but is blinded. Screaming and cursing he smashes through the house, cursing Nat’s mother, yet unaware of Nat’s presence. Suddenly, Nat’s mother appears near to him. Jayce curses her more, damning her for not staying dead after he had killed her. Nat’s mother mouths these words: this has been her message all along – to illustrate the cold reality that Jayce did in fact kill her. Nat’s mother moves close to him with outstretched arms – but Nat is freaked by the whole situation. He runs screaming from the house. Jayce freezes, realizing that Nat knows everything …
Nat has arrived distressed at Metalia. Ron tries to calm Nat as he breaks down crying that he’s possessed. Ron again tells Nat to not invest so much in the fantasy world of metal. Nat snaps and yells at him. Ron has had enough and pushes Nat out, but Nat hurls Ron to the back of the store. He then turns to the drum kit in the front window and explodes it with psychic energy. Entranced by his own power, he walks out the store.
Back home, Jayce’s vision has returned. He has become animalistic, spitting and growling. Remembering Nat’s proximity to the fridge, Jayce moves toward it. He touches it, bringing his ear close and listens intently to its purring engine. He suddenly screams and smashes it with his fists. With superhuman strength he pulls it apart. In its rubble, the compressor is exposed. After a few last gasps, it splutters to silence. Jayce stands over it, his hands covered in blood – but suddenly he experiences the deafening din of the fridge rumble in his head. He screams trying to make it stop. Sam enters, shocked at what she sees. Jayce lunges at her and grabs her by the throat and accuses her of conspiring against him with Nat. As the noise builds in his head, Sam passes out and falls to the ground. Jayce’s eyes are now inflamed with pure hate.
Nat is now at the empty factory, drumming like a demon. Slowly, he and his drum kit levitate; the thunderous noise shakes the factory’s concrete walls; sparks fly from the electrical towers outside. Enter Jayce: blood-soaked and seething. He walks slowly toward Nat and fires shots repeatedly into him. Nat repels them effortlessly and continues to rise. Jayce lets loose with a blood-curdling scream that forms an energy wave that rocks Nat and his kit. Nat rises above the floating drum kit: it separates into a myriad of floating parts as he hurls an energy ball back to Jayce. Now Jayce starts levitating in battle with Nat, volleying huge waves of energy between them.
Alannah arrives and a piercing tone wells up in her deaf ear. She screams in pain: an energy wave marks a triangular configuration between them all. Each is gripped in a state of sonic electrocution. From within this heated triangular zone, Nat’s dead mother appears. This time she floats up close to Nat, again mouthing words. Suddenly all goes quiet: Alannah voices the words in perfect synch to Nat’s mother’s lips. Speaking through Alannah, she tells Nat that Jayce is living off her energy, and that Jayce’s negativity is so strong he is preventing her from passing on. She stops speaking; Nat eyes Jayce with great focus – and psychically controls him to raise his gun to his right ear and pull the trigger. Once Jayce shoots himself, the power triangle is dissolved. Nat and the swirling disembodied drum kit float to the ground. Nat’s dead mother smiles, and fades away. Nat moves toward Alannah; they hug. Tightly and silently.
Later, Nat, Siobhan and Donny stand at two fresh graves. One is of his father. The other is of his mother. Nat feels at peace as he looks at them. Together, the three friends walk away …