After witnessing her older brother Baldur’s grisly death in a farm accident, 12-year-old Hera seeks solace in heavy metal, the music he had loved—transforming herself by wearing his Slayer shirts and leather jackets, playing his Judas Priest records, and learning to shred on his electric guitar. The film takes place in Iceland, both the landscape and the people look ruggedly beautiful and freezing cold.
Years pass, and Baldur’s room remains the same. The parents haven’t “really spoken” about the incident and openly resent one another. Sullen, nearly adult Hera continues to externalize her dark feelings by alienating herself from the tiny town’s church-attending community, drinking excessively, and playing hardcore music to the cows and to her brother’s gravestone. She is clearly miserable in the stark country yet perpetually unable to board the one bus that will take her “to the city.”
After a particularly terrible decision almost gets her banished, she quietly settles down with a childhood friend who proposed to her after a drunken would-be one-night stand. Her life changes. She knits now and wears her hair in a ponytail. He gives her a microwave as a gift. Her parents seem to be on the way to finding happiness again and the ability to move on. But can this really be Hera’s new life? This is a question she must answer when three young metal-loving heshers track her down after hearing her “evil-sounding demo” (it is evil-sounding—even though she loves bands like Dio and Megadeth, her own music is brutally cathartic black metal).
While Metalhead might tiptoe into improbable-transformation territory at times, it does succeed in viewing anger and sadness through more complex lens than simply taking a side in the “uptight-church-goers versus rebellious-teenagers-who-listen-to-Metallica” cliché.