Though This Is Spinal Tap effectively made it difficult to make fun of rock musicians, particularly those of the heavy metal variety, in movies for eternity, there’s enough native ridiculousness in the genre for extraneous exercises in parody, a dispensation that directors Juuso Lantio and Jukka Vidrgen exercise in Heavy Trip. It helps oodles that the movie takes place in a small hick town in Finland, a country that, thanks to its air guitar contests that have become world famous, already possesses an air of pop cultural ridiculousness. Approached in those terms, metal has the same basic appeal as professional wrestling. It’s a rarefied art form whose ostensible attraction is bogus. In the case of wrestling, people pretend to fight. In the case of metal, people pretend to adhere to a lifestyle that’s toxically misanthropic (and male). Both characterizations, however, are misleadingly reductive, since the fake fighting in pro wrestling still requires special athletic skills to pull off, while metal musicians get their fake points across with genuine musical chops.
Heavy Trip‘s parodistic strong point is that the quartet in question, Impaled Rektum, has only the misanthropic facade with which to declare themselves headbangers. The clown-makeupped bassist, Pasi (Max Ovaska), the group’s resident myth-maker, labels their music “symphonic, post-apocalyptic, reindeer-grinding, Christ-abusing, extreme war pagan, Fennoscandian (?) metal,” a description that has no purchase in reality, except for the “reindeer-grinding” part, since the group’s rehearsal space is in the basement of guitarist Letvonen’s (Saumuli Jaskio) parents’ reindeer abattoir. Otherwise, the group’s emotional dynamic is best represented by lead singer, and movie protagonist, Turo (Johannes Holopainen), who sings in the usual carcinogenic howl-growl but is so overcome by stage fright that the first thing he does when performing in public is puke onstage, a decidedly metal move under certain circumstances but not in this small town. With his long straight hair and lack of self-confidence, Turo is the constant target of homophobic slurs from town yokels, but he has a typical crush on blonde flower-shop employee Miia (Minka Kuustonen), who seems to like him but is dating the local creep, lounge singer Jouni (Ville Tiihonen).
Despite this romantic sub-plot, Heavy Trip doesn’t have much of a narrative arc. As you can probably guess based on the above precis, Impaled Rektum goes from zero to hero over the course of its 90 minutes, but in true metal style they do so in an idiosyncratic way that involves the humorous death of one member and his replacement by a certified crazy person, as well as the theft of an automobile, grave-robbing, crashing a Norwegian metal festival (Norway, in this cinematic universe, is a kind of Valhalla), presumed terrorist activity, and a whole lot of suspension of disbelief. The directors are obviously working with a limited budget, and, as is often the case with comedies of this ilk they try to take advantage of it, as in a scene where Turo wrestles with a vicious badger in order to prove that he isn’t the wuss he really is. Essentially, all they do is attach a stuffed animal to Turo’s back and have him contort dramatically. That’s a pretty good metaphor for a lot of death metal, but when you fixate on the cheesiness, you aren’t doing yourself or your movie any favors.
In Finnish, Norwegian and English. Now playing in Tokyo at Cinemart Shinjuku (03-5369-2831).
Heavy Trip home page in Japanese.
photo (c) Making Movies, Filmcamp, Umedia, Mutant Koala Pictures 2018