It’s easy to make heavy metal the punchline in music-based comedies, and it’s to its credit that Heavy Trip, the 2018 Finnish film (also known as A Band Called Impaled Rektum in some territories) directed by metal video veterans Juuso Laatio and Jukka Vidgren, now finally available in the UK via Arrow, never does. Metal is absolutely key to this surprisingly gentle comedy centred around authentically brutal music.
Perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise in a Finnish film: the country has more metal bands per capita than any other. Yet even in Finland, where apparently you can’t throw a drumstick without hitting a guy in corpse paint recording a lo-fi blackened thrash masterpiece in their shed, extreme metal is still outsider music, and it’s outsiderdom that forms the thematic heart of Heavy Trip.
We follow the extremely-small-town life of Turo (Johannes Holopainen), the singer in a garage metal band that have rehearsed together for twelve years, yet have never written a song or played a gig. Turo has crippling stage fright, a crush on the sweet girl in the flower shop and a one-sided rivalry with the singer of the only other band in town, a cheesy lounge act. Life changes for the band when the promoter of a big Norwegion metal festival pops by to purchase some reindeer blood (just go with it), leading to a rumour spreading around town that the band – now named Impaled Rektum – have a gig abroad. The gig itself is far from confirmed, but the respect the quartet of misfits suddenly receive is genuine. Turo finds himself having to front both the band and the lie as things get quickly out of hand.
Heavy Trip does a lot of things beautifully – only someone who has spent a lot of time around metal bands would write a character like bass player Pasi (Max Ovaska), the purist with an encyclopedic knowledge of rock micro-genres and other band’s riffs. A scene in which guitarist Lotvonen (Samuli Jaskio) is inspired to write riffs by the sound of a reindeer carcass being mangled by a meat grinder is absolutely masterful, and the puppyish and sincere joy the band find in their music is infectious.
‘Directors Laatio and Vidgren begin their film as a gentle, vaguely surreal comedy about awkwardness and small-dreams and gradually increase the volume, hitting the crunch channel two-thirds of the way in. By the finale, the volume dial has been turned way past eleven and all sorts of mayhem has been unleashed, and yet the change in tone has been so gradual it doesn’t jar. In Taika Waititti terms, we start at Hunt For The Wilderpeople and end at Thor Ragnarok. It’s also a film that wears its influences on its sleeve: This Is Spinal Tap is, inevitably, never far from your mind, but there’s also gentler outsider comedies like Napoleon Dynamite and Moonrise Kingdom, while the more madcap finale nods to The Young Ones and, especially, The Blues Brothers (an influence acknowledged by one very knowing line).
It’s a movie about metal, sure, but a PhD in Megadeth-studies is not necessary to enjoy this likeable weirdo comedy about embracing your dreams and finding your voice. Saying that, the “symphonic, post-apocalyptic, reindeer-grinding, Christ-abusing, extreme war pagan, Fennoscandic metal” tune that becomes the band’s calling card absolutely fucking slams. \m/