“I’m not supposed to be alive,” says Bobby Liebling, the faded heavy-metal singer at the core of Don Argott and Demian Fenton’s Last Days Here. Judging from his gaunt, waxy appearance, he might not be. His band, Pentagram, once struck Blue Öyster Cult producer Murray Krugman as “a street Black Sabbath,” but Liebling’s abrasive manner and decades-long drug addiction cost him multiple shots at success. In his 50s, he’s living in his parents’ basement in suburban Philadelphia, where his principal occupation seems to be shooting heroin and smoking crack.
In its early stages, Last Days Here has the sickening qualities of a highway accident. Liebling’s dreams of glory seem as delusional as his belief that his skin is infested with parasites. He’s a revolting sight, his gauze-wrapped arms riddled with oozing sores, his eyes lopsided and distant. But it emerges that, however far Liebling has fallen, Pentagram’s status among metal diehards is no delusion, offering just enough hope to keep him from slipping fully into the abyss.
Argott and Fenton, whose past credits include Rock School and The Art Of The Steal, leave in enough off-camera interaction to make plain that they’re invested in Liebling as a person, and not just a subject. When Liebling’s fan and manager Sean Pelletier draws up a contract promising that Liebling will forfeit his prized record collection if he fails to stay sober, he names Fenton as the co-beneficiary. Less-scrupulous documentarians—Winnebago Man’s Ben Steinbauer leaps to mind—push their characters toward narrative resolution without regard for their well-being, but Fenton and Argott let the story unfold, stepping away for months at a time rather than pressuring their fragile protagonist.
Last Days Here is a tad stingy with Pentagram’s music, and even when Liebling does finally grab the mic, his voice is buried in the mix. Pantera’s Phil Anselmo lavishes him with praise before an opening gig, but the cameras don’t follow Liebling out front. If, as seems likely, the years of drug abuse have ravished Liebling’s voice beyond hope of repair, that ought to be part of the story as well, rather than being elided in the name of a tidier resolution. But the fact that Last Days Here cares more about Liebling’s personal redemption than his professional triumph is ultimately a saving grace, a telling demonstration of the film’s well-ordered priorities.