Heavy Trip: Helsinki Rock City, by Alexander Miller
Heavy Trip is a movie about four likable but dopey dudes who all share one thing, their unyielding love of heavy metal. When they aren’t slogging through their day jobs, getting bullied by locals and rival musicians, or catching flak from their folks, they spend every chance they have jamming in their practice space (which happens to be the basement of the guitarist’s parents’ house) blasting out some sludgy, growly death metal. This motley crew starts with Lotvonen (Samuli Jaskio). He’s the Jackson-sporting guitar player. His long curly blonde hair makes him feel like a nod to the influence of American metal. He’s usually sporting Pantera and Megadeth shirts and looks like he was an extra pulled off the set of Wayne’s World. Oh, and his parents own and operate a reindeer slaughterhouse. Very metal. Then there’s Pasi (Max Ovaska), the slightly unhinged but lightning sharp bass player who’s a metal savant/brainiac and also an expert at banging away on his four string. With his sleek, long, black hair and penchant for quoting Ronnie James Dio and recommending “Uruguayan Grindcore Metal” to someone looking for a Justin Bieber CD, he seems to be a universal referential catch-all for all things pertaining to the genre of music these guys hold so dear. Then there’s Jynkky (Antti Heikkinen), the rotund drummer. Our narrator says he’s the toughest guy in the band. Actually, Jynkky is the biggest sweetheart in the band. The only reason why they call him “tough”? Because, if we’ve learned anything from hard rock drummers (or This Is Spinal Tap), they aren’t known for long lifespans and Jynkky has been declared dead twice. With his build, sweet demeanor and childlike enthusiasm, the character of Jynkky plays out like Finnish Chris Farley surrogate.
But a death metal band is nothing without a grumbly lead vocalist, who is also our narrator and main protagonist Turo (Johannes Holopainen). He’s shy and well-mannered with a killer voice to boot. As a character, he’s not too exciting but Turo is easy to root for and maintains an air of likability throughout.
During the first act, our windmilling misfits are cranking out some certifiably evil heavy metal but at this early juncture the group hasn’t played in front of an audience, they’re relegated to playing cover songs and, most crucially, they don’t have an official name. While the boys are struggling to find their sound, a major revelation comes about when the guitarist Lotvonen is hard at work in the reindeer slaughterhouse and a reindeer carcass gets stuck in a grinder. This gushy bone crunching becomes “melodic” and Lotvonen is quick to invite his fellow bandmates to share in his new discovery. The drummer recognizes the blast beat necessary for any self-respecting metal group, the morbid but brainy Pasi is excited, saying that “the sounds of thousands of reindeer, going to reindeer hell,” and Turo unanimously with his bandmates agree that the band has found their sound.
Once they get back in the practice space they churn out an energized, loud and furious original tune. The band has recorded their first demo; despite being inspired by the grinding sound of a reindeer carcass, something is awakened in this gang of well-intended misfits.
Once they catch wind of a major metal music festival, thanks to a fateful visit from a hesitant yet benevolent manager/concert organizer (who has the presence of Lemmy Kilmister and Colonel Tom Parker). Once an enthusiastically bumbling Jynkky delivers the band’s demo, the seeds of the adventurous if sometimes conventional plot are sown. They also don the title of Impaled Rektum at this point. If that title isn’t enough to instill laughter, think about other groups with similar names; perhaps a controversial MA-born band whose frequently abbreviated moniker (AC) could be a reference?
Heavy Trip is a silly movie with heart to spare. The story has the air of Detroit Rock City, Airheads, Sing Street, and the lesser seen metal infused Japanese export Detroit Metal City but is director Jukka Vidgren (working from a script by Aleksi Puranen) being derivative, referential or cute?
While the ensuing journey of an inspired crew of amiable rebels making a trek to prove their metal chops follows some familiar territory, Heavy Trip is a film that plays with warmth and laughs every step of the way. It would be an easy out for the film to remand itself to a referential niche for fans of death metal but Heavy Trip imbues a universal and adventurous narrative that adheres to convention while embracing enough referential ammunition to keep any fan of the genre happy. The glaring highlight is that Heavy Trip is a film that eschews the cynicism of aforementioned titles and humanizes its characters without condescending caricature or pandering.
Heavy Trip has the makings of a road movie cum band on the road saga but it’s got a twinge of unlikely excitement; the humor is specific to the genre, while it’s smart enough to hit on broader spectrums. Standout moments include the ne’er do well bandmates taking their album picture by driving past a traffic light to trigger the speeding picture. Lead singer Turo squares off with snarky musical rivals (Ville Tiihonen plays a perfect douchebag villain in the mold of a cocky lounge singer) but it’s the relative warmth and sense of comedic timing that makes Heavy Trip an oddly enjoyable romp with heart, humor and a lot of metal.
The cast seems to have fun with the material, as well they should. Heavy Trip is made with an unguarded sense of adventure and humor that works on its own terms; this is the product of someone with an ear for the minutiae of the metal genre and an eye for dramatic structure mixed with an adventurous spirit. Heavy Trip has made its rounds at SXSW and Fantasia Fest and is opening in a string of theatres throughout the states. Catch it if you can!