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'Metalhead' just scratches the surface of comfort and catharsis

'Metalhead' just scratches the surface of comfort and catharsis
Scene from Ragnar Bragason's 'Metalhead.' (Cinelicious Pics)

In bleak 1980s rural Svarthamar, Iceland, where the townsfolk seem perpetually expressionless, a tractor accident claims the life of the young Baldur (Oskar Logi Agustsson) and sucks the life out of his nuclear family. His 12-year-old sister, Hera (Dilja Valsdottir), immediately makes a bonfire out of her own possessions, arrogates Baldur's hand-me-down T-shirts, electric guitar and musical taste and transforms into the titular "Metalhead."

Fast forward to the 1990s. Hera, now played by Thora Bjorg Helga, grows up to be a fractious deadbeat who can't hold down a job at the local abattoir yet won't head for the city to pursue her musical endeavors. She finds a kindred spirit in the newly arrived priest (Sveinn Olafur Gunnarsson) with their shared love of metal, but she mentally projects the special bond to be something other than platonic — which viewers can foresee the first time they lay eyes on each other. The trajectory of Hera's musical prospects is similarly telegraphed in an earlier scene.

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Writer-producer Ragnar Bragason renders the story only on a superficial level, developing Hera's character primarily through changes in wardrobe, hair and makeup. Without such artificial visual cues, the progressions of supporting characters — most notably, her mom (Halldora Geirharosdottir) and dad (Ingvar E. Sigurosson) — are noticeably remiss. How Hera finds solace and catharsis through metal is never satisfyingly elucidated.

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'Metalhead'

No MPAA rating.

Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.

Playing: At Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood.

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