Jonas Åkerlund/ UK Sweden Norway /2018 /118min
Available on Blu-ray Mon 22 Jul 2019
Straight Outta Compton. Bohemian Rhapsody. The Dirt. Rocketman; cinema has had a ravenous hunger for musical-biopics of late. The artist(s) reach unprecedented heights before fame and in-fighting threaten to tear their success apart. Rarely, however, does such in-fighting lead to church-burning and murder: enter Jonas Åkerlund’s Lords of Chaos.
Based loosely on the early years of the Norwegian Black Metal scene (“Based on truth, lies, and what actually happened.”), the film focuses on Mayhem co-founder and guitarist Euronymous (Rory Culkin) and his attempts to control a group of friends/musicians known as “the Black Circle”. Plot-wise, things don’t go well – a fact which is forecast early on through a clunky and misguided voice-over which permeates the film – but the execution of the said plot is itself worthy of praise.
Given the graphic suicide of Mayhem’s lead singer Dead (Jack Kilmer) and criminal activities of musicians/Black Circle members Varg (Emory Cohen) and Faust (Valter Skarsgård), it would be all too easy for Lords of Chaos to play as a bombastic, dangerous rock-n-roll picture. Instead, Åkerlund presents the characters and their actions in a naturalistic, neutral way – a stylistic choice which both intrigues and infuriates as the story plods through its ever-intensifying beats. It’s a quiet film of a riotous bunch, with a fascinating commentary regarding the nature of rebellion and posturing lingering beneath its surface (note, for example, the countless times Euronymous is seen drinking from a bottle of Coca-Cola whilst rambling through his personal manifesto regarding “the system” and his apathy for the wealth from which he so naively benefits).
Culkin is suitably magnetic in the lead role but it is Cohen who gets the most to chew on as Varg Vikernes’ unpleasant behaviour delves to ever lower depths. Unsurprisingly, Vikernes has publicly criticised his portrayal in the film, as well as the story which he eloquently labelled as “made-up crap”.
Lords of Chaos is awkward; unsure of how to make such insufferable hypocrites carry a film which wants to underplay and humanise even their worst traits for almost two hours. But every once in a while the story, the subjects and the subtext align and we get a fascinating look at teenagers/young adults posturing their way through a non-existent rebellion; posturing which eventually spirals into slaughter. Awkward, yes, but admirable all the same. This is no ordinary rock-n-roll film – fitting for no ordinary rock-n-roll movement.