SXSW 2018 Review: HEAVY TRIP Goes to Eleven

Jukka Vidgren and Juuso Laatio’s breakout film is a metal movie for the ages.

You gotta look beyond the mainstream... the mainstream'll drown you, you know? There's always a pulse in the underground that I love. And the pulse in the underground is what keeps heavy metal alive.-- Phil Anselmo (lead vocalist of Pantera)

Metalheads are portrayed in film as a unique type of outsider. Usually donning long hair, black band tees, and tattoos, misconceptions run rampant in the mainstream media about this particular subculture. They can be falsely labeled as Satan worshippers, violent, angry, or simply criticized for being so pale that they practically glow in the dark. These are stereotypes that movies embrace, but ultimately expel by showcasing lovable and empathetic characters whose antics not only cultivate comradery, but also conjure up hilarity and in some cases, nostalgia for generations to come. Heavy Trip is one of these movies.

Balancing stereotypical metal film tropes while simultaneously taking the stage on its own as a foreign gem, first-time directors Jukka Vidgren and Juuso Laatio’s cinematic epic successfully showcases amusing characters beneath their misunderstood, brutal exterior. Driven by a dream to play one of the biggest metal festivals in Norway, an underground metal band hailing from a remote village in Finland shows us what it’s like to be metal as fuck.

Director of photography, Harri Räty, quickly establishes the setting through gorgeous shots of a lush forest landscape that mirrors the isolation our main character feels when he is insulted by his peers not even one minute into the movie. Protagonist and front man, Turo, is a reserved musician who regularly rides his bike, turning a cheek to judgemental stares and homophobic slurs. His escape from ridicule is manifested through metal, and he finds solace with his three bandmates practicing cover songs in a reindeer slaughter house. Thus ignites the subsequent stream of metal as fuck moments moving forward.

Each band member possesses his own specific style and quirky traits. Lead singer Turo (Johannes Holopainen) is a shy, hopeless romantic who suffers from stage fright but can belt out ruthless pitches on par with George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher from Cannibal Corpse. Pasi (Max Ovaska) is dubbed the smart one, the guitarist who works in the local library and can remember every song he has ever heard. Jynkky (Antti Heikkinen) possesses drumming skills that deliver the hyper blast beat that define the band’s core, and his outgoing, fearless personality is a foil to his fellow bandmates. Lastly, there is golden-locked Lotvonen (Samuli Jaskio), an insanely fast guitar player who works at the family-owned reindeer slaughterhouse. 

When an outsider arrives to buy reindeer blood (a rather gnarly but apparently effective nutritional supplement), the guys discover an opportunity to play their first real gig and quite literally chase down their dream of joining Norway’s hottest metal festival lineup. Their small town soon catches word of their seemingly successful score and begin treating them with the utmost respect - a drastic shift from their usual daily dose of mockery. The news also travels to Turo’s love interest, Miia (Minka Kuustonen), an enchanting florist whose blonde hair and doll-like face is reminiscent of Medina from Deathgasm. Thanks to Pasi’s methodical mindset, the guys begin formulating the logistics of their upcoming golden gig which include settling on a band name, writing their own songs, and discovering their signature sound. After much contemplation and technical difficulty with a meat grinder, their sound is dubbed “symphonic post-apocalyptic reindeer-grinding Christ-abusing extreme war pagan Fennoscandian metal.” Again, metal as fuck. Using the insults from their neighbors and community douchebag musician, Jouni Tulkku (Ville Tilhonen), as inspiration, they decide on Impaled Rektum as their official band name. Although, Possessed Vomit and Fetal Death were close contenders. The back-and-forth banter among the childhood friends turned bandmates is reminiscent of Spinal Tap, but in lieu of dry humor and idiotic mistakes, there is subtle wit and an innovative approach to the obstacles they face.

The antagonist of the film, Jouni, epitomizes a sleazy, egotistical musician. His main goals are to seduce Miia and make sure Impaled Rektum embarrass themselves on stage as much as possible. Other more complex characters include a patient at the psych ward where Turo works, who introduces him to a lion-like mentality that Turo utilizes to take control of his life and conquer his personal shortcomings. Oula’s character (played by Chike Ohanwe) is a breath of fresh air and a great addition to the group because he uniquely utilizes metal as a catharsis; it’s ultimately the only method to his madness. It’s just an added bonus that he sports a shirt that reads “I put the ‘black’ in black metal”. This is just one small nod of inclusion that is threaded throughout the film. When Turo is insulted and accused of being gay (numerous times over), he finally confronts his abusers, kisses one of them on the lips, and states “gay men are real men--manly men”. This scene of Turo telling these guys to fuck off - while simultaneously defending others that are harassed in his village - is a prime act of noteworthy self-defense displayed by an underdog protagonist, which contradicts the stereotype that metalheads are aggressive, while simultaneously further developing his character arc.

Norway bound, the band acquires a van that has seen more hilarious encounters with death than the entire Final Destination franchise. Robbing graves and hijacking a Viking ship are just some examples of the wild shit that ensues. While the pace can falter at times when the military is introduced, the outlandish comedic surprises continuously carry the plot well. Vidgren and Laatio passionately tear out the heart of underground metal through comedy, comradery, and clever characters. In contrast to genre films like The Gate and Trick or Treat, there is no horror element or trope of fighting off evil (at least in the demonic sense). However, Heavy Trip solidifies its place among other beloved metal genre films by summoning a dark comedy that even those who aren’t familiar with Pantera, Children of Bodom, or Uruguayan grindcore can throw their horns up and enjoy.