Lords of Chaos review: Get ready for an unsettling watch as Norwegian Black Metal’s dark history gets an airing in this polarising new feature film from Jonas Åkerlund.
Based on truth, lies, and what really happened. These words make up the opening text to Lords of Chaos. They’re very similar to the opening statement in I, Tonya (based on the irony-free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews), but that is where the similarities end. Where I, Tonya had a very tongue-in-cheek, knowing vibe, Lords of Chaos appears much more serious. Our story tells of events that happened with black metal band Mayhem in Norway during the late eighties and early nineties.
The truth is that one of the band’s lead singers, Pelle Olmin, better known as Dead, committed suicide and several years later guitarist Øystein Aarseth was murdered by another former band member, Varg Vikernes. The group were also linked to a spate of violent crimes and church arson attacks. There’s a wealth of events to explore.
Lords of Chaos investigates an interesting, little known story, but sadly the choice of direction and tone are somewhat off-putting. This is a film that appears (whether intentionally or not) to glamorise self-harm and violence. Dead’s suicide scene is an unsettling sequence wherein we watch a man slit his wrists and neck, before turning a shotgun on himself. The gore is unrelenting during this moment and it’s lingered on for too long. The camera, unflinching and unmoving, getting right up close to the blood, the intimate camerawork somehow romanticising the actions. It’s easily the most uncomfortable suicide onscreen since The Rules of Attraction. It’s a bold and slightly dangerous move from director Jonas Åkerlund, and will surely spark controversy. Especially when social media platforms are coming under fire for the same thing.
Rory Culkin has somehow flown under the radar for the bulk his career. He tends to prefer to work within the indie circuit, meaning that many will never see just how good he is. Lords of Chaos offers another stellar turn. His character Aarseth AKA Euronymous is softly spoken, prone to jealousy and at heart a big fake. Savvy enough to realise that the extreme always makes an impression, he starts the Norwegian Black Metal movement, but doesn’t truly seem to believe what he’s selling. Culkin plays the part with the perfect amount of false bravado, cockiness and insecurity.
Emory Cohen plays Euronymous’ frenemy Varg with a dark intensity. His character is somewhat fanatical about Mayhem and goes to extreme lengths to fit in with them and Cohen captures that.
Other notable cast members include Jack Kilmer, son of Val Kilmer, who plays lead singer Dead, and latest Skarsgård turned actor, Valter, whom plays one of Aarseth’s followers. Valter’s character too is a point of controversy. He spends his days watching video nasties (it is set in the eighties after all) and becomes fixated on what it might be like to kill someone. Films inciting violence have long been a pressure point in society, and Lords of Chaos brings it to the fore again.
A slice of dark history from the music industry, tainted by some shocking and very uncomfortable scenes, Lords of Chaos will not be to everyone’s taste. Sure to raise conversations and potentially some controversy given it’s handling of certain plot elements.
Lords of Chaos review by Kat Hughes, February 2019.
Lords of Chaos screens at Glasgow Film Festival. It is released in cinemas on 29th March 2019.