Liam & Nick go on a HEAVY TRIP

Heavy Trip, the debut feature from directors Jukka Vidgren and Juuso Laatio — who co-wrote the film with Aleksi Puranen and Jari Olavi Ranta — might be the first film to really show the lives and friendships of metalheads without also layering in occult or supernatural elements. The story of Impaled Rektum, who play “Symphonic Postapocalyptic Reindeer-Grinding Christ-Abusing Extreme War Pagan Fennoscandian Metal,’ manages to be touching and hilarious, with an absolutely brutal soundtrack:

“In this offbeat comedy from Finland, Turo is stuck in a small village where the best thing in his life is being the lead vocalist for the amateur metal band Impaled Rektum. The only problem? He and his bandmates have practiced for 12 years without playing a single gig. The guys get a surprise visitor from Norway—the promoter for a huge heavy metal music festival—and decide it’s now or never. They steal a van, a corpse, and even a new drummer in order to make their dreams a reality.”

Liam and Nick both had a chance to watch it in advance of its October release. Both were so stoked on it, they decided to tag-team a review.

Nick

I watched Heavy Trip on a Saturday afternoon as a way to decompress after one stressful week, and before another hectic one, and it really hit the spot. I think I’ve become so used to metal films being this horror thing that using the genre and its fans as a comedic element felt astonishingly refreshing.

Sure, it’s bound to be compared to Deathgasm, simply because of the “metal band in a small town in a foreign country” aspect, but it’s honestly more along the lines of The Commitments or other bar band flicks than the usual Black Roses / Hard Rock Zombies / Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare / Rocktober Blood / etc. kind of films.

Honestly, what struck me at first was the fact that, while the band hasn’t really made it or played shows when Heavy Trip starts, they’re all fairly well-adjusted. They have jobs, they have friends with each other, their families seem to love and tolerate them to a pretty good extent, and it’s really just the grind of not being accepted for who they are in a small town that weighs on them.

The movie’s sunny and set mostly during the daylight hours, so it avoids the usual atmosphere of darkness, and I appreciate the contrast between screaming black metal and sunlight streaming in through the basement windows. The bright atmosphere prevents Heavy Trip from falling into easy tropes like darkness equaling misery, and is just one example of how the script subverts expectations.

What were your initial reactions to watching Heavy Trip?

Liam

I hate to do this right up front, but the elephant in the room (so to speak) with any film related to any subculture is not, unfortunately, how GOOD it is, but how LEGIT it is. So lemme say up front, Heavy Trip is as legit as it needs to be to work. I will say more about that in a bit, but best to get that out of the way up front. Now, is it also good?

Thankfully, yes! Heavy Trip is in some ways a charming and heart warming comedic adventure. It has some complexity, a lot of really fun humor, and a super triumphant note that has you rooting for these lovable misfits. It is also, as previously mentioned, a movie that is about metal to some small extent. So yes, it has screeching music, it has gratuitous vomiting, plenty of sex and scat jokes, lots of weird culture specific references, a literal rain of blood but in a bad way, and of course some corpse exhumation to top it all of. This balance is what makes the film so successful.

A common misstep when representing a subculture I am much more familiar with, punk rock, is to often simply represent all the punk characters as awful and abrasive people, often insane or at least unrelatably awful. Similarly, one could choose the greatest caricatures of metal heads as anti-social doofuses, lacking any charm or humanity. These characters are fun and silly and goofy, but they have enough real humanity and vulnerability that we can relate to.

My experience of them was not as ridiculous cartoon characters, but as familiar goofs just trying to find their way in the world and do what they love. When the characters make sense, then it is easier to accept some of their less likely decisions, because we know this is where the humor comes in. When the characters are simply abrasive monsters, the drama doesn’t matter.

Most of this work is done by our main character, Turo. While each member of the band has some quirk that sets them apart, Turo is our “in” into this world, and Johannes Halopainen really is great in the role. There is a bit of a slacker vibe, but Turo’s insecurities feel very relatable, even if his performance in their basement practice space leads us to believe he might actually be good at this if he gave himself a chance.

The rest of the band are all silly, but each has moments that we can see a person in, and this helps the movie stick for me. The romantic tension between Turo and Miia is great, endearing in how understated it is. Even when Turo is tempted and then actually does mislead the town as to the success of his band, Impaled Rectum, we understand why. We want Miia and Turo to get together, and we can see how easy it is to let people believe what they want to.

Now back to that first question, how “metal” is the film. Look, I am not a huge metal head, but I know enough about that world to suggest this film gets a lot right. Sure, I don’t know that our characters are “TRVE KVLT” but, like, they are four loser growing up in an isolated village in Finland. They seem to be doing pretty well considering. The film uses this theme, this context, of metal, as the driving force, without really battering the audience with it.

Sure, would I like more Bathory jokes? Who wouldn’t? However, the movie seems to me to strike a perfect balance between just enough metal content for metal fans to relate, but not so much that casual viewers will feel alienated. Or worse, that we feel the film is TRYING to be SO METAL, that it is embarrassing. The scene, the world the band is in, really works to tell the kind of story the film is telling, and so the metal-ness of the movie is functional as well as fun.

What did you think of the “metal” of the film, Nick? Did you think the story struck a balance between charming and edgy?

Nick

The balance between charming and edgy, I think, is perfectly found in the scene where Turo is singing along to his Walkman while working at the mental institution: he’s fully into it, rocking a bunch of really great stage moves, and completely into it. He’s also completely oblivious that he’s being viewed by his co-workers and a common room full of mental patients.

Then he has to go clean up a bunch of poop. It’s moments like these, which occur regularly throughout Heavy Trip, where the movie does these things which are kind of relatable, but just outside the realm of what’s normal, so they’re played for the full humorous extent of the gag. It leaves the movie feeling just this side of possible, rather than turning into some sort of absurd road trip, like — Road Trip, I guess?

The only point where I feel like the film really goes over the edgy precipice and becomes silly — as opposed to charming — is the border crossing, with the army and rocket launchers and a crew on a stag trip. The whole of Heavy Trip, to this point, has been an exaggerated portrayal of small-town life which, despite being set in a Finnish town, is pretty relatable.

The really charming thing is that the band has exactly one original song and they play it repeatedly, because all they know otherwise is covers, and I feel that so strongly, it’s absurd. Granted, their one song is fucking great, but it’s like every band I ever knew growing up in my town, where they’d play a bunch of cover songs people would get excited about and sing along with. Then, when they’d play their one original, people would honestly flip out even more, because OMG MY FRIENDS WROTE THE BEST SONG. And they still talk about it, like 20 years post-high school.

But the metal dudes are friendly and nice, and get along with their folks, even, which seems like it’s a far more accurate portrayal of metalheads I know than the church-burning, devil-worshiping, carving-Slayer-into-their-forearms-on-a-meth-binge metalheads in most popular culture. For instance: my brother buys weird black metal cassettes from obscure groups on Bandcamp and plays them in his barn while he carves wooden bowls, which he sells at the flower shop he and his wife own. That’s the kind of metalhead I know.

But there’s also the crazy dude who knows every obscure riff and ruins everybody’s fun sometime, but is exactly the sort of person you want to have in your band, even — or maybe especially because they put on corpse paint and wear reindeer antlers. It’s a cavalcade of individuality, but nobody’s suggesting they murder people and drink out of their skulls. Impaled Rektum just likes brutal tunes.

Are there any parts which don’t work for you, or are there scenes which stand out as working so well, they need to be lauded from the rooftops?

 

Liam

I mean, Heavy Trip is not perfect. I also found the border scene to be a little weird, and for a couple reasons. One of course is simply the scale of it, and I assume this is playing off of some stereotypes Norwegians and Finns have about each other that I do not relate to. There is also a brief subplot about a Bible-themed bachelor party that gets mistaken for terrorists that just falls flat. All of this is leading to the end which is utterly stupid…but in a really satisfying way. Sure, it is saccharin and unrealistic, but for me the film kind of has earned it. Not many films can feature some of the plot points (which I do not wish to spoil) that this film does and still manage as a feel good kind of film

As for gimmicks that work, there are only a few laugh out loud moments, but the whole spirit of the film kept me smiling and giggling. I really liked the dynamics of the band, and when the fest promoter is introduced there are a number of gags that, while over the top in their own way, had me rolling. For me though, there is a climactic, if silly, transportation-related moment in the climax that is not that funny, but is so over the top indulgent from a Scandinavian metal viewpoint that I loved it.

That is the game Heavy Trip is playing. If these characters are just real enough and just vulnerable enough, how much overly weird shit can we get away with? Moments of degradation and defeat sure, but also real chest swelling triumphant notes. Just set pieces that will have the folks who are feeling the film wanna lift their own metal horns to the godless skies. Not everything is really smooth, and for some die hard folks this film might be a little short of “REAL METAL” but overall it is a lovely and fun success!

Nick

In the end, I really want to watch this with a roomful of people. Watching it alone with headphones on was a blast, but I feel like this needs to be played in a theater with the volume about two or three decibels below hearing damage. Maybe a later showing, with a cheap beer special? If nothing else, with some real metalheads in denim vests. Basically, the people standing in front of the stage during that final concert scene in Sepultura, Kvelertak, and Cannibal Corpse t-shirts.

Frankly, that’s the one scene I feel where they didn’t quite stick it. It’s not edited nearly as tightly as it could’ve been — we need to see Impaled Rektum as men made fucking ROCK STAR GODS, and it’s just a generic concert scene from any movie.

Watch any really great live concert film — Queen At Wembley, AC/DC Live at Donington — and you get the way you need to cut to the rhythm of the song. While a crane shot might be a bit much, there’s definitely a way to shoot a concert, and this takes more from YouTube videos shot on someone’s phone than an actual performance piece done by someone with access to a budget and a cinematographer. It makes the thrill just a little less than it could be, but the journey to get there does enough to carry Heavy Trip through.

Although: the “I Put the Black in Black Metal” shirt? That’s fucking aces.

Heavy Trip is a collaborative release between Music Box Films’ genre arm, Doppelgänger Releasing, and Bloody Disgusting. Screenings will take place in top markets on October 5, with a nationwide VOD release set for October 12.

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek writes about films scores in his monthly OST column for Starburst Magazine (http://www.starburstmagazine.com), and can be found talking about movie soundtracks via the From & Inspired By podcast (http:///www.fromandinspiredby.com). He was once a punk, but realized you can't be hardcore and use the word "adorable" as often as he does.
Nick Spacek
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