Release: February 8, 2019
Director: Jonas Akerlund
Screenplay: Jonas Akerlund and Dennis Magnusson
Starring: Rory Culkin as Euronymous, Emory Cohen as Varg Vikernes, Jack Kilmer as Dead, Valter Skarsgard as Faust, and Anthony De La Torre as Hellhammer
Running time: 118 minutes
In the 1980s, Euronymous, alongside bassist Necrobutcher and drummer Manheim, puts together a band called Mayhem. Eventually they are joined by Swedish vocalist “Dead” and “trve Norwegian Black Metal” is born. After a gig, the band meets a fan from Bergen named Kristian. Before long, “Dead” is found dead, having committed suicide in the run down farmhouse shared by he and Euronymous. Euronymous fashions necklaces from bits of Dead’s skull to be worn by the band. This causes strenuous objection from Necrobutcher, which causes Euronymous to have a tantrum and kick Necrobutcher out of the band. Mayhem are now without a singer or a bass player. Young Kristian shows up again, now going by the name Varg, and delivers his demo to Euronymous. Impressed, Euronymous wants to sign Varg to his label, but has no money to finance recording a proper album. This prompts the young and eager to please Varg to remark that his mother will could put up money for the record. After the release of Varg’s record, financial tensions, as well as personal animosities, grow between the two men, culminating in Varg’s violently stabbing Euronymous to death. It’s a familiar tale, one that has been told over and over again by patchouli stinking hipster after patchouli stinking hipster since they sank their nostalgia vampire fangs into the black metal genre back in the mid 00s. Never, however, has it ever been told so blandly, and with such an added level of fantastical nonsense as it is here. Lords of Chaos continues Jonas Akerlund’s record of being quite possibly the worst director to ever attempt to make the jump from music videos to features.
Lords of Chaos is, to put it bluntly, a bad film. This starts, of course, from Akerlund’s script. The dialogue in this film is atrocious, and it calls to mind another “metal” themed film I reviewed not too long ago, American Satan. Like that film, the characters in Lords of Chaos do not engage in conversations, rather they speak long strings of slogans past or at each other. Seemingly every time Euronymous opens his mouth, it is to deliver some grand speech about the virtues of Satan and “true Norwegian Black Metal.” Varg constantly, and gratingly, drones on about the importance of authenticity. I have never heard anyone speak like this, I don’t care how wrapped up in the “trve kvlt Black Metal ist fucking krieg” nonsense they are. There are also pacing and padding issues galore throughout Lords of Chaos’ running time. For starters, the bit that covers the relationship between Euronymous and Dead. He was in the band for three years before his suicide, yet the pacing of the film makes it feel like all of three days. This is something that could have been expanded upon if Akerlund had, perhaps, left out some of those random photo session scenes and the stupid Euronymous frolics through the forest with Dead’s ghost scenes.
The principle actors are a chore to watch. Rory Culkin’s Euronymous delivers the various sermons on the authentic nature of true black metal in a dull, lifeless monotone. Emory Cohen’s Varg is perpetually stuck at a shrill whine. Jack Kilmer’s Dead is similarly monotone and comes off less as the strange and disturbed type the film is clearly trying to portray him as and more borderline “simple.” Possibly the strongest performances out of the whole film are Valter Skarsgard’s Faust and Anthony De La Torre’s Hellhammer. Though, that is probably due to the fact that neither of them actually have to carry many (if any) scenes. This project has been in some stage of development since the mid to late 00s, and these two male leads are the best they managed to find in that time? Even if that is the case, I refuse to believe that these were the best takes Akerlund was able to pull out of them.
Let’s make one thing abundantly clear, Lords of Chaos was always going to be bad. Yes, the choice of Jonas Akerlund to write and direct was a bad one. However, the rot is inborn in the case of this flick when you consider that the source material is a book that has been widely dismissed as nonsense at this point. You could have put Orson Welles in his prime at the helm of this project and it likely still would have ended up below-average to bad. If you’re not yet familiar with Lords of Chaos’ subject matter, the mentally challenged Shakespearean tale that has been told, retold, broken down, rearranged, reconstructed, and regurgitated ad infinitum for years, just read one of the plentiful recounts of the tale. The most entertaining aspect of this film has been the over the top reactions to it from patron saint of hipster black metal Varg. The film itself is a tedious slog that your’e better off missing.