As a region, Scandinavia only has a few instantly recognizable cliché cultural exports. Smoked fish, 70’s art porn, IKEA … and the blackest of black metal. I’m not much for the others, but I’ve been fascinated with the Scandinavian metal scene for years, since reading a Spin article on intraband murders and church burnings 20 years ago that pinned my ears back. Since then I’ve had a chance to see a catch a few of the greats, like Abbath, and develop a healthy appreciation for the sound. The genre is easily mockable, because of its tendency to take everything to extremes (see the great, loving Metalocalypse), but still an absolute blast.
The new Finnish comedy Heavy Trip, about a small-town metal band trying to make the big time, is well aware of the absurdity, but pokes fun at the genre without ever crapping on it. Turo (the game, endearing Johannes Holopainen), who plays metal in his free time and works a day job as an orderly, and his friends may be losers, but they are sweet guys and they have actual talent. And when the main industrial product of their town seems to be assholes, like the mooks hanging out on the street all the time and a home-grown musician who plays his regional celebrity for everything it’s worth, you can’t help but root for the gang.
The group is so under the radar they have to practice in the basement of a reindeer slaughter house, which to be fair, is about the most metal thing ever. But when a chance encounter and a musical revelation involving the sound of the souls of reindeer screaming on their way to reindeer hell spark some ambition, they rename themselves Impaled Rektum and head off on a road trip to the Northern Damnation metal festival in Norway, the dark heart of black metal.
Oddly, given the movie’s title, Heavy Trip isn’t really a road trip movie. It’s more of a gentle hang-out comedy that goes bananas in its final act. Before that we get a lot of daily life, along with some gorgeous cinematography of amazing landscapes and plenty of reindeer. Turo has a sweet relationship with the girl who works in the local flower shop, and his friends have all found their niches.
As directed by newcomers Juuso Laatio and Jukka Vidgren, it’s all very fun and very silly, on a similar wavelength to films like 8000 Miles or Deathgasm, but with even lower stakes. The film has its flaws – the finale is a little out of proportion to what comes before, the love interest doesn’t have much character besides being generally cool and into the protagonist – but those are small complaints. As one of the bandmates puts it during the film, pretty accurately, “heavy metal lyrics are usually based on mythology, occultism, Satanism, or crappy fantasy literature.” It’s fun to see that a heavy metal story doesn’t necessarily have to be so heavy. And the music is pretty damn great too.
3 out of 4 stars (Very good). Heavy Trip plays at Cinepocalypse on June 22 and 27.