HEAVY TRIP is Filled with Music, Laughter, and Reindeer Blood [DVD Review]

It’s odd to use words like “sweet,” “heart-warming,” or “life-affirming” in reference to a movie that features someone getting gallons upon gallons of reindeer blood dumped over their head, but hey, it turns out metal heads have heart too. The new Finnish comedy Heavy Trip both celebrates and gently mocks the life of a die-hard fan of heavy metal, using the Satan-worshiping, eardrum-destroying, head-banging aesthetic of metal as a canvas to tell a familiar but always rousing story about believing in yourself, building a family with fellow outcasts, and chasing your dreams.

Also reindeer blood. Gallons upon gallons of reindeer blood.

Heavy Trip’s earliest, easiest, and never-not-funny joke is its juxtaposition between the quaint, quiet Finnish town in which it is set and the big metal dreams of Turo (Johannes Holopainen), a painfully sweet, painfully shy young man who can’t walk down the street without getting mocked by the local jock-ish crew. Turo’s sanctuary is singing covers of heavy metal with his small group of friends including bassist Pasi (Max Ovaska), introduced working at a library where he gives “Guatemalan grindcore” to a little girl asking for Justin Bieber; guitarist Lotvonen (Samuli Jaskio), whose family owns the reindeer slaughterhouse where the group rehearses; and ambitious drummer Jynnky (Antti Heikkinen), who has legally died twice but can keep time even after having a cardiac episode.

The quartet have established a small kind of paradise for themselves, and that’s enough for Turo, even as he pines for beautiful flower shop girl Miia (Minka Kuustonen). But Jynnky believes the group’s sound is strong enough to begin playing real gigs in front of real audiences, and he pushes the band to begin writing and recording their own material. A chance encounter with the booker of an upcoming metal festival in Norway is all the motivation the band, now rechristened “Impaled Rektum” (other names suggested include ‘Dead Fetus’. “Let’s not bring kids into this,” one band member chides the others), to start taking themselves a little more seriously and carrying themselves a little taller. Soon the whole town is on board for, ahem, Impaled Rektum, an enthusiasm that both excites and terrifies Turo.

Heavy Trip doesn’t stray too far from the established narrative path: You’ll know within the first ten minutes pretty much every major story beat that’s going to be hit along the way. But directors Juuso Laatio and Jukka Vidgren and their co-writers Aleksi Puranen and Jari Olavi Rantala get a lot of fresh mileage out of their unique choice in both music and setting. The film has a great deadpan tone that turns even the simplest of lines and images into major laugh-getters, married to a sneakily progressive attitude (the way Turo eventually deals with some homophobic insults is hilarious, surprising, and fist-pumpingly badass) that makes the whole endeavor entirely amiable.

The second half finds the band and the movie hitting the road, resulting in what I can only describe as Blues Brothers-ian chaos melded to Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s low-fi, DIY aesthetic. It’s a massive change from the town-set sections of the movie, but it works both because the film never sacrifices its fundamental sweetness, and because Laatio and Vidgren keep the laughs coming fast and furious even as Heavy Trip steers hard into wackiness. Impaled Rektum’s entirely-minor trip to Norway keeps escalating to higher and higher levels of ridiculous, so by the time you get to the Vikings, the horrifyingly/hilariously well-armed Norwegian border patrol, and the bus carrying a bachelor party dressed as Jesus and his disciples, well, you may just look around and wonder, ‘How the hell did we get here?’ And then shrug because honestly the whole endeavor is just too entertaining to worry about.

Holopainen makes for a compelling lead, kind eyes shining behind a massive mane of dark hair, and he strikes very real sparks with Kuustonen as Miia (these names are fun). Again, you won’t be surprised by any of the turns in Turo’s journey, but Holopainen is so vulnerable beneath his heavy metal ornamentation that you truly root for this guy to overcome his fears and become the rock god of his dreams.

Each of the band members has a well-defined persona and comic voice, with my personal favorite being Ovaska as Pasi, with his spindly frame, dead-eyed stare, encyclopedic knowledge of all heavy metal guitar riffs, and eventual commitment to wearing a demon-from-TheExorcist/off-brand KISS make-up for the second half of the film. Dude even wears it while speaking eloquently at a funeral.

The guys make a convincing band, and if it isn’t actually them playing and singing then it’s as good a bit of fakery as any I’ve seen. I’m no expert on metal, so maybe an actual aficionado would quibble over their music, but Impaled Rektum seems genuinely talented, lending urgency to their quest to perform. They know they have skill, and we believe them, and so we root for them to make it to that damned festival, even as the universe keeps hurling misfortune (and RPGs) into their path.

Heavy Trip is a small movie, but it is sincere and entirely entertaining throughout. The disc comes with a number of special features (including actual musicians responding to Impaled Rektum’s demo) so you will get plenty of bang for your buck. But even a barebones disc would be worth the purchase, as Heavy Trip is the kind unassuming little charmer that comes around all too rarely.

Whether you are a lifelong metal head, or someone with no interest in that genre whatsoever, Heavy Trip is an utterly satisfying ride.

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