Film Review: Metalhead (Iceland, 2013)

metalhead

In the bleak Icelandic countryside, Hera (Thora Bjorg Helga) lives with her brother Baldur and their parents on a dairy farm in a small, isolated community. After her brother dies in a tragic tractor accident, Hera immerses herself in the heavy metal culture that he loved so much. Throughout her teenage years, while her parents suffer under the weight of their grief, Hera spends her days and nights practising in the cow shed, and rebels against her family and tight-knit community by submersing herself in Black Sabbath, Def Leppard and all of her brother’s favourite bands. With the arrival of a young, metal loving priest (Sveinn Ólafur Gunnarsson), her potential new relationship with her best friend (Hannes Óli Ágústsson) and her parents finally accepting Baldur’s death, Hera soon finds herself questioning her heavy metal dreams.

Metalhead is beautifully shot; the bleak aesthetics and remoteness of the icy Icelandic countryside enhance Hera’s isolation from her family and community. Snow, ice, and coldness are ever-present throughout the film, and are used as a metaphor for the suffocating nature of grief; it’s these subtle inclusions from director Ragnar Bragason that help you empathise with the Karlsdottirs, particularly with Hera’s parents.

Thora Bjorg Helga does very well with what she’s given. Her isolation feels very real, and Hera’s concert at the film’s climax was a beautiful moment; Bjorg Helga infuses the scene with raw emotion and her performance of the song is beautiful. Also good are Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson and Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir as Karl and Droplaug, Hera’s parents; their grief and guilt is palpable and the film’s great joy is seeing them come alive again and accept their grief without letting it swallow them whole. Gunnarsson as Janus and Ágústsson as Knutur do well with what they’re given, which isn’t much, as the film does really revolve around the Karlsdottir family.

The main flaw with Metalhead is that parts of the plot seem a bit disjointed and the film’s timeline isn’t particularly clear. Hera’s relationship with Knutur seems like it’s on fast forward (one minute they’re best friends, the next they’re engaged); similarly, it’s never really explained just how Hera’s demo got into the hands of the Norwegian metal band that want to sign her, and all of a sudden they’re in Iceland at her home having tea with her parents. Whilst not a major issue, these discrepancies disrupt the flow of the film and cause it to feel disjointed, affecting the immersive experience that is so close to being perfect, but unfortunately just falls short.

Despite the sometimes disjointed plot, Metalhead is a raw and honest look at the isolating nature of grief, and the long term effects it can have. Beautifully shot and well-acted, Bragason’s film is a subtle, realistic and surprisingly uplifting film that uses heavy metal music and culture as a way to express the loneliness and depression that comes with losing a loved one.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Metalhead screened in Australia last month as part of the Scandinavian Film Festival. It will receive a digital release through Madman in October. Details here: http://www.madman.com.au/catalogue/view/30057/metalhead