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Ragnar Bragason - "METALHEAD (Motion Picture)" (Other Products)

Ragnar Bragason - "METALHEAD (Motion Picture)" Other Products cover image

"METALHEAD (Motion Picture)" track listing:

(Icelandic independent film)

Reviewed by on December 29, 2014

"If the beautiful, messy, and gritty but ultimately universal human experience of life doesn't warm you up, perhaps a good church burning will?"

Icelandic film director Ragnar Bragason spins a captivating tale of a young girl's self-actualization through trial, error, and heavy metal with his 2013 (end-of-2014 for the USA) release, "Metalhead." What appears on the surface to be a bit of a tribute to the heavy metal gods of olde is actually a carefully-woven chronicling of a family's coming to terms with the loss of a family member through embracing what the deceased so dearly loved -- heavy metal.

Having made its U.S. premiere at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn in November, the film unites metalheads worldwide through the characters in the film. Hera Karlsdottir, played by breakout actress Thora Bjorg Helga, witnesses her brother Baldur's death at the hands of a awfully painful farming accident, accompanied by cold stoicism from her parents, who refuse to properly deal with what has happened, and her own reckless and wild behavior. Through her attempts at grieving for her brother and making a life for herself, oftentimes battling the world and everyone around her, she gradually forces herself, those around her, and her family to confront reality.

There's quite a lot of exposition in the seemingly slice-of-life scenes of the film, establishing the characters through subtlety and ostensibly normal action rather than heavy-handed dialogue, which will make real cinephiles perk up and pay attention. An Icelandic “Fargo” of sorts, although considerably less comic, the film's charm lies in the essence of the character interactions. Although the central character is the precocious leather-jacket-clad Hera, the soundtrack plays a major part in each scene as well, as the hidden hand at work weaving the tale through lyrics and loudness.

Savatage, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Megadeth, and the classic gods take the spotlight here and contribute to each scene they're in. For example, "Strange Wings" being played by Hera in a scene illustrates that she's got a strange way of dealing with her issues, but it gives her wings to fly above the crushing reality of loss. In other musical moments of the film, we see Hera's magnum opus, a progressive black metal song, evolve over the course of the film and crystallize in a performance of it as she finds her true voice and moves on with her life. The ending is positive, with a huge payoff, given the extreme gravity of all of the film's events.

This isn't a film for casual metalheads who just want to see their favorite music genre represented in a major form of entertainment and it will require a substantial amount of patience. Like a great metal album worth listening to the whole way through, this is a film that will be worth your attention and will leave a lingering warmth in the hearts of the faithful. If the beautiful, messy, and gritty but ultimately universal human experience of life doesn't warm you up, perhaps a good church burning will? This film's got that, too.

The film is slated to be released theatrically and on video on demand in early 2015 by Cinelicious Pics. “Metalhead” was the winner of 8 awards at the 2014 Icelandic Film Awards (including Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor & Actress, and Original Score by noted Icelandic musician Petur Ben), and received rave reviews during the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.

Watch a trailer for “Metalhead” right here.

Highs: The film rises above the common metal movie by using metal as the medium rather than the point.

Lows: Attention-deficit viewers will find they need to have patience with this one.

Bottom line: A heavy metal tale of love, loss, and levity set to film.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)