Málmhaus (English title: Metalhead). 2013. Directed & Written by Ragnar Bragason.
Starring Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, Thora Bjorg Helga, Sveinn Olafur Gunnarsson, and Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson.
Unrated. 97 minutes.
Hera, as a young girl on her family’s farm, witnesses her older brother Baldur die in a freak accident while riding a tractor. Later, as a teenager, Hera gets into the heavy metal lifestyle and music Baldur enjoyed. She lives in a tiny community where her newfound choices don’t exactly go over well. Her father and mother struggle with the motions she goes through. They attend church, while she only rebels against it. Hera not only picks up heavy metal, both listening to it and playing it, she also takes to more violent, destructive behaviour; this all culminates in a very serious act of vandalism and arson. She is at odds with the people and place where she lives. Everything feels too ordinary and small for Hera, and so her rebellion grows large.
The whole film is essentially about Hera’s struggle, however, we also get an eye of what her parents go through in their own struggle to deal with death. Aside from the family there is also the great character of Janus, a new priest in the town. He is secretly a very cool guy underneath the black clothes and the collar; in a very suggestive scene, or at least it is at the start, Janus takes off his shirt to reveal to Hera a tattoo. He then proceeds to tell her he loves Iron Maiden, Venom, Celtic Frost, among others. His taste in music transcends the priestly garb, and he even gives a line similar to “don’t judge a book by its cover” (or maybe it was exactly that – I can’t remember now).
I really like that the film included Janus as a character because this shows the multiple lives a person can live; they are not defined by their occupation, nor are they defined by the music they listen to. However, Janus gives off signals Hera misinterprets. Their relationship isn’t what she thought, and it sets her off further against God; this being one of the threads running through Metalhead.
Any drama truly thrives on its performances. Above story, above mood or setting or plot, the actors and actresses of a film (or any performance truly whether it’s onscreen or onstage) really carry things; if they do a bad job, the film can fall flat. On the other hand, if they do even a mediocre job a film that might not have been any good without them becomes really worthwhile. In Metalhead, the performances give even more punch to a great story. Thora Bjorg Helga, as Hera, really does a spectacular job portraying a young woman trying to find herself while also mourning the loss of someone whom she loved very much.
The film does a good job of illustrating, to those who don’t already know, how music can both destroy as well as heal; it has both of these capabilities, whether people like it or not. Hera clings to music as a means of identifying herself. She also immerses herself into music because it helps her still keep Baldur with her in spirit. There are beautiful scenes where we get to watch Hera go through intense emotion while she puts the dark soul in her inside the music she plays.
There are some other solid performances in Metalhead to round the film out. Such as Sveinn Olafur Gunnarsson as Janus, the heavy metal rocker priest, and also Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson who portrays Hera’s equally trouble father Karl. Although Helga herself is the main focus of the film, and a strong female lead, these two male leads also provide great non-typical characterizations of familiar characters.
Later in the film, after Hera has almost fully abandoned music in her life; it has gone away, and she resigns herself to a life that is simply available to her instead of one she actively seeks out and wants. Then when three men show up looking for Hera, having heard some of the demo tapes she made while deeply mourning her brother, music comes back into her life. What follows in the finale of the film is absolutely beautiful.
There is a final moment of catharsis in the moments before credits roll on Metalhead which almost made me cry. I couldn’t believe it. The whole time you watch the film there are moments where you actually hope for a good end to everything. Most times, even while watching a terrifying film like a horror or maybe a thriller, I find myself looking for a grim ending because honestly, in my opinion, those are more interesting film-wise. Happy endings don’t usually jive with me because they are too heavy handed, too smug. On the contrary, the moments closing out this film are absolutely perfect, not only for the plot, but also tonally. It just, simply put, works; damn well. The tragic and heavy tone throughout much of Metalhead, including what I feel are some excellent moments of dark comedy, all play well with the end. Some endings can take the tone and throw it out, however, this one hits its mark, and strikes a fair balance where everything comes out slick.
I have to give the movie a 4.5 out of 5 star rating. I have one small problem with Metalhead. I felt they could have used a little more time on female relationships. They explored the mother slightly because there were some fascinating shots and bits of scenes where we really got to see her almost in the same light as Hera. But they didn’t get enough of it in there. With the inclusion of Janus and Hera’s father Karl, it felt as if there was a lack of more female presence in movie. It isn’t necessarily something that detracts from how beautiful or successful in its goal Metalhead is in the end. Personally, it’s just something that would’ve made this a little stronger overall. There is a lot of ground left to be covered concerning Hera’s mother that I wish they could have, or would have, covered. I recommend anyone who loves a good drama to check out Metalhead once they can.
I believe Raven Banner is handling the Canadian distribution across all media. This is really great film. Not only for those who are fans of metal (there are some musical treats within, no doubt!), but those who enjoy heavy, personal dramas. There are some big, great aspirations here concerning faith, music, forgiveness, and other themes. I think Metalhead delivers on most levels. It is worth the money and time to see something not typical of most dramas: a middle-ground view of ideas about death, love, heavy metal, and religion.