As unfamiliar with the Norwegian black metal music scene as I am, I either have to take Lords Of Chaos as truth or take it as an attempt to present a sketch of the events of the early 1990s that led to both tragedy and infamy for some of the key players. Considering how often film-makers have to take liberties with the truth in order to turn it into cinematic entertainment, I am going with the latter. Don't take Lords Of Chaos as an attempt to deliver the truth, take it as an exploration of attitudes, lifestyles, hype, and lies that became muddled up and interchangeable in the minds of some young men who started to feed on an unwise diet of their own flesh and blood. They started devouring themselves more and more vigorously at a dining table that would stretch to accommodate more and more acolytes, creating a self-destructive cycle that would inevitably only end one of two ways, eventual overstuffing (metaphorically speaking) or disappointment and hunger.
Rory Culkin plays Euronymous, the lynchpin of a Norwegian black metal band named Mayhem. When Mayhem recruits a new lead singer, Dead (played by Jack Kilmer), Euronymous is alternately impressed and irritated by his macabre antics, which often involve dead animals/flesh and self-harm. The irritation disappears, however, when Dead shows how committed he is to his lifestyle choice by blowing his brains out with a shotgun. From that moment on, Euronymous moves from being a band member to being a record store owner and the manager of a record label. And that is when his life starts to fully intertwine with a young man named Kristian (who goes by the name of Varg), which is when conversations start to get darker and more extreme, followed up by ego-driven actions.
Directed by Jonas Åkerlund, someone I wouldn't really consider myself a big fan of (I like some of his music videos, really disliked his debut movie, Spun), Lords Of Chaos is a fantastic mix of moments that are filled with dark humour and moments that depict violence in a way that is grim and difficult to watch. Every wound, every moment of pain, every death comes with a serious amount of weight attached. This is all thanks to the script, co-written by Dennis Magnusson and Åkerlund, that takes viewers on a journey that starts with childish bravado and inexorably slides towards life-shattering consequences. There's also something to be said for the energy levels in each scene, with things always feeling busy and energised until any fatal violence occurs, at which time the film slows down, almost as if matching the slowing breath/heartbeat of the victims.
I can understand people being annoyed that the cast isn't made up of more Norwegian actors in the main roles but I'm sure that Åkerlund had to balance out ways to get the film made with potential candidates who would be a great fit in their roles, and he's assembled a fine selection of actors. Culkin is easy to travel alongside, even when he's being selfish and horrible to others around him, and Emory Cohen is impressive as Varg, the one person always willing to take things further and prove that he doesn't just talk the talk. Sky Ferreira does fine in her rather thankless role, Kilmer makes a strong impression with his limited screentime, and you also get a solid supporting turn from Valter Skarsgård.
While this looks at a very particular time and place, a lit fuse that exploded a powderkeg, it's worth praising the fact that Åkerlund and Magnusson don't ever glorify the whole scene being shown (indeed, there's an air of mockery throughout that fans definitely won't appreciate). They also manage to remind you that the main characters involved here are still barely adults, despite their posturing and attempts to act as if they know exactly what they are doing, despite making the basic errors of mistaking infamy for fame, and striving to be creative while embodying a philosophy that is nihilistic and destructive.
A very difficult, at times excruciating, watch. It's also very much worth your time, even if it does nothing more than serve as a springboard to further exploration of how things got as bad as they did.
You can order the movie here.
Americans may want to check out this book.