Metal music, and especially Scandinavian black metal, is a particularly hard genre to make a film about. The history of the genre is so congested with controversy and public shame that it takes something very special to articulate the sub-culture in a way that's engaging to newcomers, but loyal to the genre's roots. Heavy Trip, therefore, finds itself in an interesting place. It's got the comedic cues of classic Sandler or Ferrell fare, with the aesthetics of something a lot darker – and often, it's a clash that never quite finds its feet.
The film follows Turo (Johannes Holpainen), lead member of the Finnish black metal band later known as Impaled Rektum. His desire to make his dream of rock superstardom come true leads him to fabricate a place at Norway's biggest rock festival – and a chaotic web of dismal supporting gigs, emotional turns, and a cross-border military manhunt ensues.
The problem with Heavy Trip is the naturally difficult balancing act between mature subject matter and silly, slapstick comedy. For every moment that explores loss, the impact of lies, and the ceaseless desire to achieve one's dreams, there's something that totally nullifies the film's thematic weight. The level of the comedy also doesn't suit the film: there's more than one extended punchline about vomit, the all-too-common casual homophobia, and a poorly executed sequence involving a very-clearly-fake wolverine.
It's a shame, because when Heavy Trip nails its high notes, it's actually quite enjoyable. It might not win over those sceptical of black metal, but the bombastic original soundtrack, faithful outfits and makeup will please fans of the genre. It lands emotional beats really well, too: without getting into spoilers, there's a sad twist around the hour mark that hits with a surprising level of impact, anchored by strong direction in those points from Juuso Laatio and Jukka Vidgren.
But the film's inability to sustain that level of depth is where it goes wrong. Yes, it markets itself as a comedy – but when the punchlines don't land, it makes the dramatic moments much more alluring. The film's jokes about race are also quite troubling: there's only one Black character in the film, who is presented as instinctively violent and mentally unstable, and towards the end there's an extended gag about the stereotypical identity of terrorists that really leaves a bad taste. Perhaps it's going for shock value, but Bad Trip really gets those moments wrong. Similarly, there's a poorly-judged third-act switch to a militaristic plot that feels like quite the jarring left-turn – another case where the film really doesn't play to its strengths.
It all boils down to a final product that's promising on paper, but disappointing in execution. The battle between serious drama and wacky comedy is one that's never satisfyingly handled, and for every enjoyable moment, there's a puerile joke to counteract it. Black metal fans will glean something from the impressively accurate aesthetics and musical style, but Jonas Åkerlund's terrific Lords of Chaos this is not. Unless you're a fan of the genre or culture, Heavy Trip is a journey that isn't really worth embarking on.
Heavy Trip streams exclusively on Arrow