The Pitch: Beneath a small village in Finland, the band Impaled Rektum prepare to level the world with their own particular brand of “symphonic post-apocalyptic reindeer-grinding Christ-abusing war pagan fennoscandian metal.” In the meantime, they have to deal with the difficulties of everyday life as they continue forth on their path to superstardom. Frontman Turo (Johannes Holopainen) struggles through his life as a long-haired metalhead in a town full of homophobes and squares. Guitarist Lotvonen (Samuli Jaskio) is a reindeer butcher like his father before him, when he isn’t struggling to find new riffs that haven’t been done before. Bassist Pasi (Max Ovaska) has an encyclopedic knowledge of every metal song in the world. Drummer Jynkky (Antti Heikkenen) has legally died twice. When Turo lies about getting the band into Northern Damnation, a major Norwegian metal festival, they draw the admiration (and contempt) of the entire village and soon find themselves in the middle of love triangles, mortal danger, and at least one international incident.
On a Mission From Satan: Heavy Trip makes direct reference to The Blues Brothers at one point late in the film, but long before that, directors Juuso Laatio and Jukka Vidgren situate their oddball road movie well within that ’80s classic’s ambling tradition. The premise (metal band struggles to “make it” in a small town that doesn’t understand) is sketch-thin, but the best sequences see Laatio and Vidgren understanding the outsider appeal of metal, and how the endless subcultures within metal itself are one of the most inherently funny things about it. (Pasi’s obsession with their need for appropriately brutal street cred is one of the film’s best running gags.) A fair number of the jokes throughout Heavy Trip go the inside baseball route, but it’s the charming eccentricity of the band that really puts them over.
Brutality, Two Ways: Heavy Trip is disarmingly sweet when it goes for charm, but portions of it feel like they belong in a comedy from at least 15 years ago. While the payoff to the constant gay-bashing Turo receives is satisfying in and of itself, the film also gets a fair deal of mileage out of drawing its townspeople through repetitive slurs. It’s a strangely mean-spirited note to strike for what’s otherwise a kindhearted, tongue-in-cheek story. Most of the bigger, more typical gags in the film at large struggle to land; in particular, the eventual incitement of a border dispute with Norway by the town’s dastardly police chief is a fairly big, time-consuming clunker.
Heavy Trip goes for a number of broad laughs, and if the batting average on them isn’t especially great, it’s the smaller gags that work best. The manipulation of a speed camera for a press photo is an endearingly ramshackle Wayne’s World bit, and the film generally seems to find its strongest comic footing when it entrenches itself in the comedy of how banal and every day certain aspects of making metal can be. In this respect, some of Heavy Trip‘s biggest laughs recall early Metalocalypse, when that series was far less concerned with plot than with putting the postures of black metal into everyday situations. It might be low-hanging comic fruit, but it’s frequently delicious, and Heavy Trip pulls some quality pieces throughout.
The Verdict: Its concept might be tried-and-true, but Heavy Trip modestly succeeds through its evident love for the self-serious weirdos of Impaled Rektum. This is traditional underdog stuff, but the band have enough muted, straight-faced charm to push the film through. In particular, Holopainen is charming as the bashful frontman who deals with his stage fright through profuse vomiting. The tiniest victories from day to day send him into the kind of wide, goofy grin that’s recognizable to anybody who’s ever felt alienated in their own world and found kinship in a musical counterculture. The songs played throughout are just convincing enough (and genre-less) to make the film’s premise work, and it jumps between setpieces so frequently that even some of the less effective gags are quickly left behind.
Like the modest dreams of its central band, Heavy Trip isn’t aiming for the moon. As a fish-out-of-water comedy, it’s effectively funny more often than it isn’t, and as an ode to the unlikely communities that arise around black metal, it’s entirely sincere in its intentions. There’s always been a from-the-basement feel to the genre, and everything about the modest dark comedy of Heavy Trip feels entirely faithful to that anarchic spirit.
Where’s It Playing?: Heavy Trip is now in release in limited U.S. theaters.