Finnish movie rides heavy metal wave onto silver screen

The guys in “Heavy Trip” might not look very intimidating, but they’re the Finnish metal band Impaled Rektum, and they’re determined to reach a festival gig in Norway, through hell and high water.

First question: Why has nobody made this kind of movie in Finland before now?

After all, the country has more heavy metal groups per capita than any other (see the map included in another of our articles). Finns really love speed metal, glam metal, death metal, doom metal and the other subgenres. Heavy metal is known for its fantasy elements and sometimes ridiculous excesses – which form obvious starting points for comedy.

The idea of heavy metal as farce is hardly new. Spinal Tap is among the world’s best-loved comedies and cult movies. Jukka Vidgren and Juuso Laatio surely had Rob Reiner’s 1984 parody in mind as they cowrote and codirected their film Hevi reissu (Heavy Trip).

Distinctive heavy milieu

Official trailer: In the words of the film’s production company, Making Movies, the band’s trip “includes metal music, vomiting, grave robbing, fake Vikings and the first-ever armed conflict between Finland and Norway.”

While the inspiration for the movie is clear, what makes Heavy Trip distinctive is its milieu: rural northern Finland, where metal music is more than just a passion for its fans. It’s what sets them apart from the surrounding community, which is quiet, agrarian and downright redneck.

Vidgren and Laatio’s film doesn’t make fun of anyone, though – except maybe the villain of the story, a smug adult-contemporary pop singer. Pitted against each other are two kinds of music: naïve but sincere heavy metal and the calculated, treacly easy-listening Finnish schlager pop known as iskelmä. The juxtaposition is subjective and exaggerated, of course. Yet the commanding position of these two genres in rural Finland is indisputable. And the two genres do share a taste for melody and sentimentality.

Like many classic comedies, Heavy Trip is a road movie. The main characters have to leave their small hometown to make something of themselves – or they at least hope that the grass will be greener on the other side of the fence. Their band hits the road to play at a festival in Norway, where they may or may not have been invited to perform. The trip is more important than the destination, though.

It’s no wonder that the film’s highest-profile coproduction country is Norway. Besides being northern Finland’s neighbour, the land of the fjords is another nation known for its more or less exhilarating metallic excesses.

Symphonic post-apocalyptic reindeer grinding

When in Norway: The band travels by van, but also by Viking boat.Photo: Harri Räty/Making Movies

Style-wise, Heavy Trip is a combination of laconic Finnish humour and recklessness, including some rather macabre goings-on. For instance, the drummer suffers, a bit like in Spinal Tap.

The movie pays tribute not only to its cinematic forebears, but also to the music. Vidgren and Laatio seem to understand and love the aesthetics of metal. The film is never mocking, though it often shows the metalheads’ antics in a humorous light.

One of the movie’s recurring jokes refers to the wide range of subgenres within heavy metal. “Symphonic post-apocalyptic reindeer-grinding Christ-abusing extreme war pagan Fennoscandian metal,” is how guitarist Pasi (Max Ovaska) describes the group’s sound.

Pasi, an odd character with an unchanging expression, is in his own way unselfishly sympathetic – and he’s a walking dictionary of heavy metal. In one scene, he announces that he’s changing his name from Pasi to Xytrax. The film’s humour draws on metal’s more extreme phenomena and provocative clichés – for instance, the band is called Impaled Rektum.

A road movie that travels widely

To top it all off, “Heavy Trip” even includes romance.Photo: Harri Räty/Making Movies

Few Finnish-language movies find large audiences and distributors outside the country. Fittingly, Heavy Trip’s world premiere happened at the leading US festival of music, film and interactive media, SXSW in Austin, Texas. Like this renowned event, the movie takes a multidisciplinary approach to pop culture.

Finnish viewers may see Heavy Trip as part of a domestic comedy farce genre, whose biggest international success has been Napapiirin sankarit (Lapland Odyssey). Elsewhere, it may be seen as an intriguing mix of Finnish exotica, humorous metal clichés and Anglo-Saxon indie-film mischievousness, bringing to mind the works of Taika Waititi or even Wes Anderson.

A love story involving the band’s front man, Turo (Johannes Holopainen), and Miia (Minka Kuustonen), a flower shop assistant, is a gesture toward the mainstream, but at least a slight interest in metal culture is essential to fully appreciate the comedy.

Thanks to an exceptionally high budget by Finnish standards – three million euros – Heavy Trip also includes some surprising action sequences. Due to the extreme views of the pop singer and local authorities, the band members have to escape a trigger-happy Norwegian officer. Impressive explosions set up the film’s grand finale, which takes place – naturally – onstage in front of an audience.

By Kalle Kinnunen, April 2018