Lords of Chaos
Directed by Jonas Akerlund
Review by Kenneth Gallant
Films that strive to bring the truth about a particular point in time often fail miserably. It’s so hard to bring an accurate portrayal to the big screen; let alone have it interesting enough to people flocking to the cinema to see it.
The Lords of Chaos intends to give you the straight dope, illuminating the uninitiated into the dark realm of Norwegian Black Metal; and thanks to the bleak story culled from the book “The Lords of Chaos” – we get a truncated version that unfortunately falls short. I think true black metal fans will be sorely disappointed. My wife for example, was upset that mostly American actors were used in vital roles, but this is an Americanized take on it after all.
The majority of the story darts from scene to scene and struggles to give you a very coherent point of view of the events that took place in Oslow during the late 80’s to early 90’s. What you end up getting is a bevy of violent outbursts; coupled with goofy-teenage angst moments for the most part, with some actual facts sprinkled in for good measure.
We learn that Dead (Per Ohlin) shows up seemingly out of the blue from Sweden to be the band’s lead singer. He’s obsessed with death and is bent on suicidal urgings. He ultimately commits suicide by the most gruesome way possible by cutting his wrists, throat and topping it off by blowing his head off with a shotgun. Yet we never really get to know anything about him.
Worse yet, his death scene are used to exploit Mayhem’s image courtesy of the band’s leader Euronymous (real name Oystein Aarseth). The much maligned leader of the outfit comes across like a carnival barker wannabe in many of the scenes, despite struggling to pawn himself off as practitioner of Theistic Satanism. Played by Rory Culkin, Euronymous is meant to be the lightning rod to inventing “Norwegian Black Metal” and gathering like-minded metalheads into the inner black circle.
Changing his name to Euronymous (derived from a Greek mythological spirit) and forming Mayhem in 1984 proved to be a stroke of genius. He gained instant notoriety, opened a record shop called Helvete (meaning hell in Norwegian) and started an underground record label (Deathlike Silence Productions). He was able to become the figurehead of the scene and helped bring black metal bands and friends together.
The trouble here is that it’s all just snippets in the film and Rory is adequate at best in the role. He doesn’t appear to be a confident individual with a disdain for individualism, much like the true Euronymous was known to be. You just waited for the veneer to drop and thanks to the other important piece to the puzzle: in walks Varg Vikernes to throw a monkey wrench into the plans.
Varg is washed-over mostly as a petty and jealous thug who schemes his way into the inner circle with plans to eventually overtake Euronymous’s position. Varg (whose real name is Kristian) desperately wants to be accepted into the inner circle, so he arranges a number of church burnings to impress everyone; including Euronymous. He also reinvents himself as Count Grishnackh, but it comes across as a pretentious move.
For me, the bulk of the film sags into an overly-angsty disposition between both Varg and Euronymous. You watch each musician trying to one-up each other constantly and bickering over band royalties (from Varg’s band Burzum), to fighting over a girl and going public about the church burnings. I found it took away from the creative process of recording the full length Mayhem album that we get bits and pieces of in the background.
It was also impossible to pinpoint the impact of black metal outside of Norway. It felt very isolated and relegated to being an underground movement; with many musicians like Necrobutcher, Hellhammer and Attila Csihar hardly getting a mention at all. For example, Faust was in other bands like Emperor and Thorns, but here all you know is that he stabbed a gay man to death in the park. The context of many of the players in the scene just feels like placeholders to give the film a dash of some life.
But I don’t think the film is a total lost cause. The ferocity of Euronymous’s death scene is filmed with such goriness; it’s just so hard to watch all the way through. You feel for him here as you watch how pathetic he becomes while pleading for his life. At this stage Varg is remorseless; allowing his murderous rage to carry out a pointless murder based on hearsay from others who overheard Euronymous boasting about killing him. It’s like a lifted plot from the black comedy Heathers, but director Akerlund deftly handles this with some uncompromising dark flair.
Lords of Chaos valiantly tries to get it right, but like most films based on true events the facts get fudged in favor of over-glorified story elements. The cheesy horror-satanic imagery and teen angst plotline take center stage here, often making the black metal genre appear silly. That’s one of the big drawbacks for me as I feel the genre is creatively significant for the time, upending thrash and death to bring something new to metal.
I just wish we got more of it here. The film is finishing up a limited theatrical run in North America and is heading to VOD on February 22nd.