2018 | DIR: JONAS ÅKERLUND | STARRING: RORY CULKIN, EMORY COHEN | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
LORD OF CHAOS opens with the disclaimer that the film is based on truth, lies and what really happened, and is adapted from a book of the same name, which in turn depicts the notorious events surrounding the Norwegian metal scene in the 1980s and 90s. Two influential metal bands of the time were Mayhem and Burzum and their stories became legendary for all of the wrong reasons. From the exploitation of suicide (photos of Mayhem's vocalist's corpse was used on an album cover) to arson and multiple murder, the exploits of these bands will be forever etched in music history and their credibility will be debated amongst metal fans for years to come still.
The film depicts the events from a particular perspective, casting its attention to Mayhem's leader - and self described inventor of Norwegian Black Metal - Euronymous (played by Rory Culkin). His story's trajectory begins in his late teens and follows his life to the moment of his grisly murder at the hands of his former friend and new rival Varg Vikernes (of the act Burzum). I will add that this is not a major spoiler as Culkin's character alludes to his own death in the opening narrative, as well as the whole Mayhem/Burzum history being well reported. During the course of the story we are immersed in the culture that they subscribe to so loyally and given a look into a world that is mostly unknown to the average person. Their scene is made up of a collective of disenfranchised youth and kids who are in the process of finding their place in the world. For the most part they are regular teenagers who thought they were cool (as most of us can attest to), and when Euronymous's rhetoric about satanism and his dedication to causing mayhem spirals out of control, what he considered to be deceitful promotion was taken as gospel by others.
The film tackles their world the right way by treating these characters as stupid kids. At no point are they actually demonised, and although their actions and crimes were reprehensible, director Jonas Åkerlund approaches their story practically. No excuses are made for their crimes and he depicts the murders with an unflinching realism. He is well aware that some of these characters are cold-blooded killers, but he also takes the time to explore their culture to find out what might have compelled them. Whether or not he finds an answer is another question, but what he does achieve is a reasonably earnest look into their world of Black Metal. It would be understandable for some fans to reject the film's depiction, given that from some perspectives it could seen as a demonisation of their culture. But with Åkerlund himself a member of the metal community (he was the drummer for the extreme metal band Bathory) it would be wiser to view his document as an unwavering depiction of a select few. He explores the mindsets, the psychology and the allegiance that this brand of music elicits, and in some regard he celebrates it.
Åkerlund is regarded as one of the most sought after music video directors in the world and his work has included videos for Rammstein, Metallica, Lady Ga Ga, Roxette, Madonna and U2 to name some. And so he brings a trademark mannerism to the film, which teeters between a glossy mainstream sheen and an edgy subversive grunge. Rory Culkin (Mean Creek, Intruders) takes the lead, giving the production an instant marketability, and he is exceptional as Euronymous. His portrayal of the character sees him navigate a path of youthful confliction and a measured course of maturity. His co-star, as the unhinged Varg Vikernes, is Emory Cohen (Brooklyn, War Machine) who belts out an insanely chilling turn as the introverted wannabe who becomes a fundamental extremist. Together their juxtaposing performances make for an immersive and compelling movie-going experience.
Exactly which parts of the film constitute the fabrications and liberties taken by Åkerlund is a matter for metal loyalists to know, but a simple online search will inform you of what is accurately portrayed... which is surprisingly a lot. Much of what is depicted in the film actually occurred, and from an audience perspective this goes a long way towards appreciating whatever liberties were taken. This is film after all, and what true-stories are ever told verbatim?
It is a brutal and unexpectedly funny film and it will hit most viewers like a sledgehammer. The violence is explicitly graphic and often repulsive. The camera does not shy away from the gruesome details and many people will be challenged by what they see. And so go into this one pre-warned and be prepared for a provocative and rewarding experience. I would also urge you to follow up with some research of your own, because the real story is astonishing, as is the aftermath and current status of its characters.