The first thing that appears on screen in Jonas Åkerlund’s Lords Of Chaos is a disclaimer of sorts. “Based on truth..lies..and what actually happened” is there as much as a warning to Black Metal die hards as it is to inform the casual moviegoer that this is based on actual events. Based on the contentious book of the same name, the film follows the Norwegian Black Metal scene in the late 80’s and early 90’s. While most consider the book the definitive account of what happened, there are some who discredit its accuracy. Most notably, people who were actually there.
What we know for sure is that the events in the movie actually happened. However, the details surrounding those events are widely debated. So, knowing the history of Mayhem, Burzum, Emperor, and other bands from this scene could very potentially be the movie’s greatest strength or greatest weakness, depending on which side of the aisle you’re on. Personally, they lined up pretty accurately with the story as I know it. While the account of events in the book is often discredited, it is the version of the story that makes the most sense to me. So the movie staying true to that depiction was very satisfying.
While the accuracy of the film may be up for debate, the quality certainly is not. Lords of Chaos is a well crafted story that manages to avoid all of the more common pitfalls of a standard true crime movie. The film takes some really interesting paths to develop its key players organically, rather than assuming you already know who they are, using exposition to tell you who a character is, or just glossing over it entirely. In fact, it’s as much a character study on Euronymous and Varg as it is a historical retelling, and in that it is wildly successful. In lieu of the expected portrayal of the ultra-cool rock gods, the film opts for a more genuine take, pulling back the veil on an image that the characters want you to see and exposing the bare truth underneath.
Potentially the most impressive part of Lords of Chaos is that they managed to make any of these characters likable. This is a group of guys whose most endearing cohort carried around a dead bird in a bag so he could smell it when he wanted “the stench of death” in his nostrils. When you have an entire cast of characters dedicated to presenting themselves as evil and unlikable, portraying them as sympathetic is no easy feat. A difficult task to be sure, but carried masterfully by its performances.
Emory Cohen (The OA) delivers a nuanced turn as Varg Vikerness. Aside from the occasional bland display of dominance, Cohen approaches the role with a vulnerability that cuts through what his character is trying to show, delving straight to the insecurity of a nerdy nineteen year old that desperately wants acceptance and respect from his peers. Not to be upstaged, Rory Culkin (Scream 4) delivers his best performance yet as Euronymous. Acting as both the heart and the truth of the story, turning a well known story of excess and debauchery into a cautionary tale about actions and consequences.
The story that the film tells is a bleak and violent one. So, while it may not be as blood soaked and gore driven as many horror fans are accustomed to, it has more than it’s fair share of carnage. A couple of surprisingly impactful, not to mention grisly, scenes are sure to stick with you for a while after the credits have run. As it should be. It’s easy to get caught up in such a sensational story, but Lords Of Chaos never loses sight of the very real consequences of these kids’ actions. People’s lives were ruined, families devastated, and centuries old historical landmarks destroyed forever. The film is amazingly adept at keeping that in focus, while still be entertaining and beautiful.
Not completely without faults, the film tends to feel forced in more emotional moments. In one particular scene where Euronymous attempts to confide in his girlfriend (Sky Ferreira; The Green Inferno), the tears he conjures feel out of place and undeserved as he shuts himself off for fear of his credibility. In fact, a great deal of the romantic subplot tends to feel like an easy bid for your sympathy. Rather than developing a genuine connection between the two characters, the film uses the love interest as a quick way for you to invest in her male counterpart. Given the effort spent to develop most every other aspect of the story, this was rather disappointing.
Lords of Chaos is also a tale of two movies. The first act feels completely different tonally from the rest of the movie, and character personalities pretty abruptly change after the first act. This could have been a result of change in artistic direction mid-production or it could exist to establish how young and dumb these kids truly were. Either way it feels disjointed and left me having to relearn a character a quarter of the way through the movie. It also switches back to that original tone briefly at the end for a SLC Punk-like post-script. So what you’re left with is a brooding, bloody true crime story book-ended by some lighthearted rock n’ roll biopic.
Despite an unnecessary subplot and a little bit of tonal whiplash, Lords of Chaos charges out of the gate full force and rarely lets up from there. The frigid and beautiful Norwegian landscape makes the perfect backdrop for such a desolate story. Some really clever camerawork and a keen directorial eye show you just how easily the quiet, peaceful setting can become bleak and isolated, and just how quickly some youthful rebellion and lighthearted satanism can become tragic and deadly.
‘Lords of Chaos’ is an Intense and Surprisingly Heartfelt Look into Metal’s Deadliest Scene [Review]
Beautiful, poignant, and haunting. Lords Of Chaos is a must see for all horror fans, and it’s sure to find it’s way into the collection of all metal fans willing to give it a chance.