You have never listened to a symphonic, post-apocalyptic, reindeer-grinding, Christ-abusing, extreme war pagan fennoscandian metal band like Impaled Rektum.
Actually, you may have never listened to this kind of music as it only exists in Heavy Trip, the Finnish 2018 comedy directed by the first-time directors Juuso Laatio and Jukka Vidgren.
Set in a small Finland village, Heavy Trip follows the life of Turo (Johannes Holopainen), a young metalhead and lead singer of Impaled Rektum. Despite its fearful name, the band does not have an imposing presence or a promising future. Turo and his bandmates have practiced for almost a decade and have their covers down right, but they are not ready for a first gig, at least until a Norwegian promoter visits them.
With plenty of visual gags, physical humour and loveable characters, Vidgren and Laatio crafted one of the most charming comedies of the last year. Heavy Trip plays around with the hardcore values of metal music (and its many dark sub-genres) to subvert them into the ultimate underdog story, one that recalls the craziness of This Is Spinal Tap and the dry humour of Bottle Rocket.
Since premiering at SXSW in 2018, Heavy Trip has become a niche crowd-pleaser at many international film festivals, and it’s currently available on Amazon Prime. Vague Visages recently spoke with the Heavy Trip filmmakers about the challenges of making the film in Finland and whether or not metal fans are the sweetest guys around in the music industry.
Where did you meet each other?
Vidgren: We met at the film school were we studied in northern Finland. We starting doing projects together and have been doing it for 10 years now.
Do you remember when you first got the idea behind Heavy Trip?
Laatio: The first thing we did together was a short film, sort of like a mockumentary, about a heavy metal band called Impaled Rektum. We started thinking about what the next project was going to be. The first idea was a really large-scale post-apocalyptic sci-fi thing. We worked on that script for a long time and then decided it was never going to happen and we needed to start smaller. Then, one time Jukka was driving…
Vidgren: It was something like November of 2011. I had some teaching gig in Sweden, and you can take two and a half hours to drive there in a car from Finland. I was driving back home, and it was really dark. I was just by myself and thought “Hey, that short film we did back in school was really fun to make.” And there were a lot of things around that subject that we knew as we were doing these music videos. I just called Juuso and said: “Why don’t we try to make this into a feature film?” And five years later, we got the film made.
You’ve mentioned This is Spinal Tap and The Blues Brothers, even The Simpsons, as some of your comedic influences. Do you feel you have the same relationship with humour?
Vidgren: We have a very similar kind of sense of humour, although we are very different people. But things that make us laugh are very similar for some reason. Juuso likes more Will Ferrell films than I do.
I think there’s something really witty about doing an uplifting comedy featuring a heavy metal band. Were you always convinced on this idea?
Vidgren: Most of the ideas came pretty easy. There’s a good soil for a comedy in a heavy metal scene. The core of the film was that these very nice, almost innocent kind of guys are playing this music that sounds very scary. That’s actually pretty much true. A lot of metalheads that we know are generally lovely dudes.
Do you consider yourselves metalheads?
Laatio: I do.
Vidgren: I like some, but Juuso is really the metal dude.
Laatio: I’m currently going through an intense Black Metal phase right now. Well, I have been through it for a few years now.
I think there’s still some prejudice regarding metal as a musical genre because of its dark themes and the music being “difficult” for some people. And yet, metal fans are sometimes the sweetest people. Did you feel the same way when portraying the characters of the main band?
Vidgren: A lot of those guys are outsiders, and they like metal because they can find things that they like together. The music sounds “violent,” and the lyrics can be wild, but there’s something in the contrast that is very interesting.
Laatio: Yeah, even musicians are really like humble and shy people outside of the stage.
What were you looking for in your actors behind the main cast?
Vidgren: Of course, they had to be funny and have a good comedic understanding of timing. We had been writing the film for a really long time, so the characters in our minds were very kind of set. We were looking for the guys we had on the page, and I think we found very good actors portraying those characters. I don’t think we did drastic changes to them.
Now that you have gone through the experience of shooting your first film, are you still fond of that time of your lives?
Laatio: It’s like going to the military. Happy memories 10 years later, but when you are there…
Vidgren: It was a lot of fun, but I remember we had lot of pressure and the schedule was very tight always. Even we had a big budget, with 30 shooting days — very rarely we had a day that we finished earlier. We planned our shots earlier, so we had a sense of the visual style of the film.
Laatio: It was a conscious decision that this was going to be a nice movie to look at. Cheerful. In contrast with the dark music, we had sunny and colourful buildings.
Being two directors, how did you divide the work during the shoot?
Vidgren: I work more with the actors and Juus handles the rest of the team like the camera crew and the visual stuff.
One of the maines themes of the film is overcoming your fears. Did you do the same by making Heavy Trip?
Vidgren: Our message was that even if this was gonna fail, we still were going to do it. That mentality worked in the film and worked for us. We weren’t like the first guys you would think could get the film done, because in Finland, you have like the one film school, and we didn’t [go] to that school. Also, the Finnish film industry is pretty based in Helsinki, and we live in another part of the country, so this was a kind of underdog story for us as well. In the end, we worked so much on the script and the people understood that from the very beginning — that this was a good story. All the financers took a risk with us and hope it pays off in the future.
How surprised were you with the international reception of the film in festivals and other countries?
Vidgren: We were really surprised that the first film festival that we got into was something as huge as SXSW. After that, we got a lot of festival invitations. The film has always felt very Finnish to me, but the humor seems to translate very well, which is something I didn’t [consider] while making the film. I then thought “This is something so Finnish, these small villages, the metal music, etc., and it will not be relatable for other people outside of it.” But I was wrong, and that’s great. People do like the film, and the film has been sold to distributors to like 20, 30-something countries.
If making Heavy Trip was “your first concert,” how do you feel about it now that you have come down from the stage?
Vidgren: There are some days when I remember this feeling that we gotta a feature film made, and it’s a film I can kind of live with. That brings some kind of smile onto my face. It’s a big thing. When people ask me “What do you do?,” I now can say I am a film director. I made a feature film. It’s nice that there’s something you’ve done that people like and you put out there. Nobody can take that away from me.
Laatio: For me, I think the biggest change is that I don’t fully understand that we have done something that should be nearly impossible from where we come from. The film circle is like really inbred in Finland, so just to get through the stages of funding and getting awards is surprising. If the next movie is done outside of Finland, I will realize that something bigger has happened. With Heavy Trip, people are still finding and liking the Facebook page of the movie, so we like to discover people discovering the film.
What else are you working currently?
Vidgren: Our next project is also gonna be a comedy. I don’t think it’s gonna be horror or a Finnish drama film. Comedy is something that we find easy to do.
Laatio: I think we like the fact that when a person leaves the cinema, they are gonna feel better afterwards — instead of feeling worse.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Pablo Staricco Cadenazzi (@pstaricco) is a France-based Uruguayan journalist, film critic and member of FIPRESCI. He worked as a staff member for the newspapers El País and El Observador, and he is currently part of the the movie podcast Santas Listas (from @polentapodcast) and the comics publisher Pantano Editorial.