For fans of metal, it’s about more than the music. From the infectious riffs of Metallica to the apocalyptic isolation of Leviathan, metal encompasses the human experience like no other genre, while simultaneously boasting the most outspoken detractors. To an untrained ear—or closed mind—metal can be alienating. Personifying rage and embodying turmoil comes at a price, and no band would agree with this statement more than Zeus, a Cuban heavy metal group who’s been battling to be heard since the 80s.
Known within certain circles as the “godfathers of the Cuban metal scene,” Nicholas Brennan’s documentary “Los Ultimos Frikis,” which roughly translates to “The Last Freaks” in English, begins as the band members embark on a nationwide concert to celebrate their 25-year anniversary. Filmed over the course of a decade, the documentary observes Zeus as the band discovers that their country, for better or worse, is not what it used to be.
Taken as a whole, “Los Ultimos Frikis” paints a portrait of Cuba, a nation scarred by political strife arising from internal conflict and outside policymakers alike. An environment constantly in flux is bound to birth worthwhile artists, and Zeus stands out as an uncompromising collection of counterculture icons who use music to speak out on the struggles of their country. In the midst of hardship, whether that be canceled venues or threats of imprisonment, the band refuses to be silenced, and the documentary captures this empowering love for art in a fashion that is heartwarming and downright inspiring at times.
When the film steps away from its fixation with the band, “Los Ultimos Frikis” examines the evolution of Cuban music culture over the course of Zeus’ career, which provides a thought-provoking backdrop for the documentary’s subjects to ruminate upon their past and present. At one point, the crew conducts an impromptu interview with passing schoolchildren by asking the youth what type of music they listen to; they all answer reggaeton, with one of the kids even telling a band member that it’s pointless to listen to metal since the music is sung in English, a language they do not speak.
Notably, this moment is far from the only time that reggaeton is mentioned. Zeus refuses to play a set following a reggaeton artist and the lead vocalist Diony Arce voices his disdain for the genre. Foremost, in certain terms, the clash between heavy metal and reggaeton symbolizes the democratized, diluted state of the current Cuban music industry, a reality that instantly draws comparisons to the United States.
At their peak, Zeus exemplified an era in which music stood for something. And before anyone says anything, yes—music in 2019 still stands for something. However, in the midst of turmoil, people listen to music for messages more than anything. Metal, especially in a culture whose government sought to silence opposing voices by any means possible, built a platform for rebels to voice their opinions oftentimes at the risk of their lives. To a band like Zeus, reggaeton, encompassing its free-spirited rhythms and lively lyrics, spits in the face of that mindset. Times are changing, and it is dubious whether Cuban culture holds enough room for the metal scene to survive alongside its massively popular competitors.
Ironically, how “Los Ultimos Frikis” decides to discuss these concepts is woefully stale, and although Brennan certainly showcases a deserved respect for his film’s subjects through his editing decisions and creative choices, the documentary does not encompass enough substance to warrant any significant acclaim. “Los Ultimos Frikis” barely crosses the 75-minute finish line and still feels stretched out due to needless padding. At times, the documentary adopts the pacing of an elongated, but decidedly less flashy Vice documentary—Brennan’s worked with the company before—and admittedly, the film originated as a short, “Hard Rock Havana,” before sprouting into the director’s debut feature. “Los Ultimos Frikis” shines with the bravado of a fiery passion project, but does not deliver on its thought-provoking source material.
Disregarding Zeus’ commendable influence on Cuban culture and Brennan’s dedication to overseeing the escapade for a decade, as a film, “Los Ultimos Frikis” is informative, but not insightful. Regrettably, in a market flooded with innumerable like-minded projects, a documentary cannot settle for average, and the film’s storytelling, style and significance never exceed beyond adequate. As dour as this reality might be, in the current entertainment climate, documentaries must pack a punch—whether that be visceral, emotional or bizarre—to leave an impression on the viewer, but all “Los Ultimos Frikis” can call itself is passable. [C+]