For all their bluster about rivers of blood and sacrificing children to Satan, metalheads tend to be a reserved, and often downright gentle, lot. (Norway’s infamous “black circle” excluded, of course.) Maybe they get all their aggression out in the music, or maybe a musical genre that embraces alienation and prizes technical virtuosity just naturally attracts those who are on the nerdier side to begin with. We’re not metal enough to say for sure. But we do feel confident in saying that metalheads and those who love them will find a lot to like in Heavy Trip, the new Finnish comedy about four friends from the middle of nowhere who decide to take their “Symphonic Post-Apocalyptic Reindeer-Grinding Christ-Abusing Extreme War Pagan Fennoscandian metal” band on the road after too many years—12, to be precise—thrashing it out in their parents’ basements.
Shy vocalist Turo (Johannes Holopainen), pokerfaced bassist/town librarian Pasi (Max Ovaska), wildman guitarist Lotvonen (Samuli Jaskio), and up-for-anything drummer Jynkyy (Antti Heikkinen)—who, in a winking reference to Spinal Tap, dies twice over the course of the film—are the most metal dudes in their rural Finnish village. In fact, they’re the only metal dudes in their rural Finnish village. Yes, despite living in Scandinavia, where heavy metal is a literal tourist attraction, Turo and his friends are subject to constant mockery for their long hair and leather jackets by the local rednecks, and channel their alienation into afternoons spent playing covers in Lotvonen’s family’s reindeer slaughterhouse. (How metal is that?)
In fact, it’s the sound of a reindeer carcass backing up the corpse grinder that inspires the foursome to record their first demo, an impressively blistering death-metal number that Jynkyy passes off to a visiting Norwegian festival promoter who drops by Lotvonen’s family farm in search of reindeer blood. (Also pretty fucking metal.) Soon after, Turo lies and says he’s booked a slot at the festival while fumbling his way through a conversation with his secret crush Miia (Minka Kuustonen). And, well, word travels fast in a small town. The rest of the band, which Pasi dubs “Impaled Rektum” because it sounds cool in English, is so excited about their big break that Turo can’t bear to tell them that he made up the gig to impress a girl. Let the adventure begin.
Heavy Trip is full of heavy-metal in-jokes, on both textual and metatextual levels. Not only is the dialogue peppered with references to metal bands and conventions of the genre—a scene where Pasi cooly names the band, song, and year of every riff Lotvonen plays while trying to write an original song is a highlight—but the events that unfold when Impaled Rektum sets out for Norway are all straight out of heavy-metal lyrics. Coffins are exhumed. A mental patient is kidnapped. Vikings give the band a ride in their warship. They even come close to starting a war.
But while co-directors Juuso Laatio and Jukka Vidgren are full of clever tricks, Heavy Trip stumbles a bit in its plot-heavy second half. Shifting tones from an easygoing hangout movie to heightened, Monty Python-esque absurdity, as Heavy Trip does in its back half, would be challenging for any director, especially first-timers like Laatio and Vidgren. But while the film’s attempts at slapstick can be painful—in a cringing way, not in a brutal way—Heavy Trip does succeed in creating perhaps the most charming ensemble of morbid dorks since What We Do In The Shadows. A big part of their charm is the vulnerability of the performances: When Pasi steps out of the woods wearing reindeer fur and corpse paint and informs his friends that his name is now “Xytrax” and he’d like to be addressed as such, you really feel that he’s revealing his true self for the first time. That true self just so happens to be really into, as he puts it, “mythology, occultism, Satanism, [and] crappy fantasy literature.”