Film Review: Lords of Chaos

Director and co-writer Jonas Åkerlund’s Lords of Chaos is grimly entertaining in spite of its flaws. 

Euronymous wants to put Norwegian black metal on the map. His quest for success comes at a price however, as he and other members of the band find out…

Based on the book of the same name, Lords of Chaos is a rough biopic of Mayhem’s Euronymous. With the subtitle ‘based on truth and lies’, screenwriters Åkerlund and Dennis Magnusson make it clear that this is not exactly an accurate account. Instead, the writers fill the gaps as they see fit. The result is picture that aims for extremes yet is often amusing. 

Where Lords of Chaos stumbles is its failure to add detail to the unfolding action. The news reports indicate what a big story the church burnings was at the time (for those unaware), yet the film lacks any sort of timeline. Viewers do not have a clear context of Mayhem’s rise in relation to the criminal activity, and their corresponding level of fame. Perhaps the director wanted to distance the narrative from facts, but the result is less than satisfying. 

The most appealing aspect of the film is that Åkerlund does not take his subject matter too seriously. He astutely juxtaposes the band’s desire to be menacing with the comfortable, middle class backgrounds. Rather than princes of darkness, the band are depicted as rebels against their ordinary home lives. Moreover, the portrayal of protagonist Euronymous is most engaging. For a portion of the film, it is unclear whether he is a great showman, a smart publicist, or a believer in what he is espousing. As the film progresses, this becomes clear, setting up a distinction between him and Varg. 

Lords of Chaos is incredibly gruesome in parts. The film is not for the easily disturbed, with some very gory sequences, as well as abject depictions throughout. Rory Culkin delivers a good performance as Euronymous; believable as both the showman and the calculating entrepreneur. Emory Cohen is a little too unsettling as Varg. It may have worked better if this his disturbing nature was revealed gradually rather than from the outset. Besides the setting, the film does not feel particularly Norwegian, due in part to the American accents. 

A biopic with a horror slant, Lords of Chaos is an engaging film, in spite of some hard to swallow scenes.