Turo (Johannes Holopainen) is a hospital porter who moonlights as the lead singer in a heavy metal band, in a small town far in the north of Finland. Lead guitarist Lotvonen (Samuli Jaskio) searches for a new riff, and finds it in the sound of a reindeer carcass stuck in a meat grinder. When Norwegian rock festival director Frank Massegrav (Rune Temte) stops by the local abattoir in a search for reindeer blood, enthusiastic drummer Jynkky (Antti Heikkinen) hands him a demo tape, hoping to be invited to the Northern Damnation rock festival in Norway.
Suddenly, they are local heroes, as the townsfolk misunderstand the news, and assume that the band has already been invited. The local boy-racers stop yelling “HOMO!” at Turo every time he cycles past. Florist Miia (Minka Kustonen, bright-eyed and flirty, unlike her dour turn as a humourless hipster in Tellus) finally agrees to go out on a date with Turo, and the mayor presents them with the key to the city, or as near as dammit. Unfortunately, Frank calls to say that there is no space for the band, now named Impaled Rektum, at his festival. When Jynkky is killed in a road accident (swerving to avoid a reindeer), Turo decides to tough it out, digs up Jynkky’s coffin, steals a van belonging to local lounge singer Jouni (Ville Tiihonen), and runs for the border. Oh, and since he’s short a drummer, he busts lunatic Oula (Chike Ohanwe) out of the local asylum, because Finland. They rehearse on the road, perfecting their “symphonic post-apocalyptic reindeer-grinding Christ-abusing extreme war pagan Fennoscandian meta” sound, something defined by their bass player Pasi (Max Ovaska), who insists now on being referred to as Xytrax.
Jouni tells Miia’s dad, the chief of police, that his van has been stolen by terrorists, leading the Norwegian border guard to spring into action, assuming that a truck full of suicide bombers is bearing down on them. Owing to a case of mistaken identity, the over-enthusiastic Norwegians accidentally blow up a van containing a Twelve Apostles-themed bachelor party, allowing the members of Impaled Rektum to get across the border. Throwing themselves into a fjord, they are rescued by a bunch of medieval re-enactors with their own Viking long-ship, arriving at Northern Damnation in style.
Despite previously been told that they are not welcome, they have become media stars. Thanks to the fact they have stolen a corpse, almost started a war on the border, and broken a mental patient out of a Finnish asylum to join their band, Impaled Rektum are allowed to play a single song, while the Vikings hold off the Norwegian riot police. They are arrested at the end of their set, secure in the knowledge that they are very metal.
Like Jalmari Helander’s Rare Exports (2010), another quirky Finnish film with an enthusiastic overseas following, Hevi Reissu apparently began as a short, Impaled Rektum (2007), written by Jukka Vidgren and Juuso Laatio — that, at least, is what was reported in at least one press story, although there is no sign of the earlier incarnation in their public filmographies. The pair previously made a splash with Dr Professor’s Thesis of Evil (2011), which was Vidgren’s final-year project at an Oulu college, and Vidgren’s name shows up as an assistant cameraman on Forbidden Fruit (2009). Laatio is credited on IMDB with an entire portfolio of abilities, not only as co-writer of the script but of some of Impaled Rektum’s conspicuously terrible songs (including “Flooding Secretions” and “Good Old-Time Death Metal”), as well as stints as an art director, compositor and animator.
Plainly, much of the work undertaken by their production company, Mutant Koala, is below the line — commercials, shorts and production assistance for TV shows, which only makes Heavy Trip all the more impressive. Finnish cinema in the 21st century is riddled with overblown student films, which audiences are expected to indulge and forgive for even trying. With 20% of the population, Helsinki remains the centre of the creative arts, while the provinces are expected to count themselves lucky if anyone finds anything to write about them at all. In such a context, Heavy Trip is an accomplished, enjoyable celebration of what it means to be different in a small town in the middle of nowhere.
The music by Lauri Porra, sometime bass player with Stratovarius but also a film composer in his own right, is wonderfully hard-core, including at one point, a death metal pastiche of the James Bond theme, as Jynkky breaks into the local police station to steal a picture of the band taken by a speed camera. There are also some fantastic, so-bad-they’re-good retreads of rock classics, shredded with loving care. This ties into the film’s loving homage to many a rock icon, including a moment at Jynkky’s funeral where Pasi, sorry, Xytrax, delivers a heartfelt, poetic eulogy that turns out to be some Ronnie James Dio lyrics. This is a film that goes up to eleven, like Finland itself.
The critical reaction in Finland, however, was mixed, with a four-star review in the Tampere newspaper Aamulehti, but an ambiguous three stars in the Helsingin Sanomat, which damned it with the faint praise that it was a “sympathetic and enterprising” film that “doesn’t get boring.” Jussi Huhtala in Episodi, Finland’s answer to Empire magazine, was unimpressed, scoffing that this was a “clumsy and childish film… unfortunately not Finland’s Spinal Tap.” But a comparison with This is Spinal Tap is misleading — the music might be metal, but this is a film that owes far more to the humour and aspirations of The Blues Brothers. In particular, Huhtala objected to the digital sleight-of-hand used to create many of the film’s iconic moments, and objected to a scene in which Turo breaks into a zoo and punches a wolverine. Taneli Topelius in the Ilta-Sanomat was similarly dismissive, acknowledging the film’s luxuriance in heavy-metal cliches, but sternly conceding that he “could not give it more stars than the Devil has horns.”
The foreign press was far more enthusiastic. The Hollywood Reporter called it a “rollicking romp,” AV Club found it to be “a charming ensemble of morbid dorks,” and Roger Ebert.com pointed out that it was “probably the only film you will see this year with a crowd-surfing corpse..”