Lords of Chaos premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival at – fittingly enough – a midnight screening, which added to the feeling of bewitching and spookiness that overcame the room during the entirety of the night.
Based on the novel Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind, director Jonas Åkerlund returns to the big screen since his 2002 meth-freakout flick Spun to adapt his long-time passion project. Lords of Chaos tells the real-life story of the birth of the Norwegian band Mayhem who would go on to create a new genre of unrepentant music called “black metal.” In its wake, Mayhem also inspired uncontrollable chaos in a wave of death and destruction.
Recounting each moment of the band’s epic journey in flashback form with apathetic and irreverently hilarious voice-over narration is founding Mayhem band member Euronymous (Rory Culkin). He recounts the band’s rise from jamming out in basements with fellow bandmates Hellhammer (Anthony De La Torre) and Necrobutcher (Jonathan Barnwell), to finding their first lead singer – “Dead” is his self-given name (Jack Kilmer), and through the rise of their popularity in the underground music scene. While the structure of the movie might fit in line with any Behind the Music dramatization, the choppy and chaotically-minded camerawork and editing is anything but conventional and feels like you’re sitting next to an amp with the distortion turned all the way up.
While the events depicted in the film are deadly serious – emphasis on death – Director Jonas Åkerlund injects a level of sick, twisted humor to the movie that conjures a fitting “devil-may-care” attitude that the band so carelessly oozes. When you hear the kids say things like “Hail Satan” to each other, it’s delivered with the faintest humor that alludes to show what a ridiculous gesture it is. That is, until Euronymous, the image-minded bandleader whose own satanic-worshiping exterior might be more of a front than the real deal, realizes he’s inspired an untamable follower to his and the band’s anarchic message – that of former-fan-turned-new-bandmate Varg (Emory Cohen). Varg’s enthusiasm for Mayhem and his anti-establishment message would eventually force Euronymous to practice what he preached, all but forcing his hand to perform church burnings and more. Åkerlund, a former drummer in the 80s for the Swedish hardcore metal band Bathory as well as seasoned music video director for such acts as Lady Gaga and U2, understands the reflexive relationship between art’s authenticity and its marketing and therefore knows exactly how to deliver on this struggle in the film’s final act.
Lords of Chaos is truly an ensemble film, with equally compelling and memorable performances from supporting actors Valter Skarsgård, Lucian Charles Collier, Wilson Gonzalez, and Sky Ferreira. But it’s the film’s leads who are given the heaviest emotional crosses to carry, and Culkin and Cohen are absolutely fearless in these roles, both as mesmerizing as they are terrifying. Lords of Chaos is that kind of movie that’s so brutal that it might make you physically sick to look at – and yet you won’t be able to stop watching it through your fingers. But make no mistake – bringing this level of chaos to the big screen is still exceptionally made filmmaking. To make a movie like this – one that doesn’t shy away from actual events no matter how horrific or indigestible – takes a brave team, and Åkerlund, Culkin, Cohen, and the rest of the cast prove that they are more than game to bring this story of grisly death to glorious life.
‘Lords of Chaos’ is rated R for strong brutal violence, disturbing behavior, grisly images, strong sexuality, nudity, and pervasive language.