Anguished screams can be heard emanating from the basement of a slaughterhouse in a small Finnish village, but it’s not the resident reindeer that are crying out – it’s Turo (Johannes Holopainen), lead singer of a metal band that he’s formed with his closest friends. Despite practicing religiously for more than a decade, the members have never played a single gig, have never written a song, and have never even decided on a name for themselves.
“Your playing makes the reindeer want to kill themselves,” grumbles the father of lead guitarist Lotvonen (Samuli Jaskio), who operates the slaughterhouse. “Soon I’ll be out of a job.” But when the carcass of an unfortunate deer gets stuck in a meat grinder, producing a syncopated beat and a high-pitched squeal that sounds vaguely like a guitar solo, the band is inspired to create their signature sound: “symphonic post-apocalyptic reindeer-grinding Christ-abusing extreme war pagan Fennoscandian metal.”
With a shoddily produced demo cassette in hand, the boys set their sights on Northern Damnation, the largest metal festival in Norway. Word of the band’s upcoming performance spreads through the tiny village like wildfire, turning the group into local celebrities, and the band’s legend is growing so quickly that Turo can’t bring himself to stop the momentum – even when the festival promoter (Rune Temte) informs Turo that he can’t get them onto the bill. There’s only one solution: go to Norway, show up at the festival and play anyway.
With his long hair, leather jacket and torn jeans, Holopainen looks like the textbook definition of a metalhead, and carries the film admirably as the painfully shy aspiring frontman. Elsewhere, Ville Tiihonen is appropriately slimy as Jouni, a mustachioed lounge singer hoping to sleep with the pretty young florist (Minka Kuustonen) for whom Turo is harboring a major crush, and some of the film’s best moments belong to Antti Heikkinen as the group’s overly enthusiastic drummer.
As the first Finnish comedy to have its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival, Heavy Trip finds itself faced with some rather lofty expectations. Parallels will no doubt be drawn between this film and the mid-90s comedy Airheads, featuring Brendan Fraser as the leader of a hair metal group that holds a radio station hostage in order to get airplay for their demo tape. But those antics pale in comparison to the sort of trouble that Turo and his friends get themselves into, including (but not limited to) grand theft auto, destruction of property, desecration of a grave site and inciting a military conflict. As the band gets closer to the festival and their exploits grow increasingly more ridiculous, the laughs grow exponentially as the film somehow manages to continually up the ante on hilarity.
For anyone that’s ever played in a garage band and remembers things like pre-show jitters, schlepping equipment to and from the venue, and the importance of a good promotional photo, Heavy Trip should resonate particularly well. But even for viewers unable to relate on a personal level, the combination of a truly hilarious script, a wickedly talented ensemble cast and a genuine affection for heavy metal culture and all its absurdity should translate into huge laughs and plenty of positive buzz, setting the film on course to become a cult classic.
Embracing the inherent absurdity of metal culture and mining it for laughs pays off in a big way in this road trip comedy, but rather than letting the jokes feel mean-spirited, the film instead opts to show genuinc affection for metalheads.