Scary Movies XI: LORDS OF CHAOS – No Sympathy For These Devils
Starring Rory Culkin, Emory Cohen, Valter Skarsgård, Sky Ferreira, Jack Kilmer, Jonathan Barnwell, Anthony De La Torre, Sam Coleman, Wilson Gonzalez
Written by Dennis Magnusson and Jonas Åkerlund
Directed by Jonas Åkerlund
Jonas Åkerlund’s Lords Of Chaos is a bubbling cauldron of blackened biopic malevolence that’s as puckishly anarchistic as it is deranged, hellborn and pure evil. Comedies such as Heavy Trip subject hopeful Norwegian demigods of rock to “silly” musician odysseys, but that is not Lords Of Chaos. Rightfully so, given how this 1990s glimpse into the creation of Norwegian Black Metal is “based on truth and lies” (detailed in Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind’s tell-all novel). A movie about “suffering, chaos, and death” covered in runny corpse paint, religious desecration and the most shit-kicking metal condemnation worth gored-up true crime weights. “You think this is a fuckin’ costume? This is a way of life.” Lords Of Chaos has the brutal scars, burned embers and body count to prove it.
Rory Culkin stars as Oslo’s own Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth. This is his story and it will end badly (he tells us as narrator). Euronymous has big plans for his band Mayhem and a new genre of music he’s labeling Norwegian Black Metal. A movement only meant for the emptiest, most unforgiven souls who care to fight back against the church’s oppressing happiness. After establishing what’s dubbed the “Black Circle” – his inner sanctum of trustees – loner “Varg” (Emory Cohen) impresses Euronymous with a self-recorded demo. Euronymous – now record store owner and label producer – signs Varg, which is when rivalries erupt. Euronymous talks a big game, but Varg takes action. Commence wooden pews and holy altars burning in the name of Norwegian Black Metal – Varg’s warm up.
Lords Of Chaos blends the nerve-slicing imposition of Super Dark Times with Ronnie James Dio lyrics and Zakk’s devotion to antichrist symbolism in Deathgasm. No fabled monsters or conjured demons. Murder, arson, and anti-establishment protest all in the name of heavy metal stardom too insane to be real but so very tuned to the idealism of exposing life’s misery. Combative discourse over “posers” (“Just call it Life Metal”) is the exact reason for conflict as Euronymous and Varg begin to butt heads. Life is full of visionaries and soldiers – those who architect, those who take action. Lords Of Chaos is what happens when two such powerhouses in each field collide. As gutting and viscerally haunting a recounting as it is edge-of-a-razor tense, all while giving audiences front-row seats to the morally untamed world of heavy metal (un)civilization. “Stand Up And Shout” a mood-setting anthem.
As Åkerlund immerses tonality in Black Metal growls, Lords Of Chaos headbangs and thrashes with technical songwriting merit. Mayhem’s douse-audiences-in-blood concert theatrics under frontman “Dead” (Jack Kilmer) needn’t overshadow crunchy, black mass squealer choruses. Mix that with Sigur Rós’’original score and a collection of 80s/90s needle drop tracks? You’ve got yourself the kind of soundtrack that could raise the dead five times over. Kicks your ass into gear while hyping imagery from roadkill corpses to post-suicide remains to many other grotesque snippets that haunt Euronymous’ memories as the sickest Norse psychological breakdown. Soundwaves evoke ceremonial incantations and punishing riffage that honors a title like “Lords of Chaos,” morphing amps into megaphones of the Dark One’s rowdiest rallying cries – aka this movie bangs HARD.
To be frank, effects and themes are not for the squeamish. Scenes of self-mutilation, suicide, and extensive bleeding will be considered upsetting to most (unwatchable to some). “Dead” slices into his arm to release anguish and sanguine liquid, one with “terror” as Mayhem’s frontman. Crucified mouses, spattered crime scenes, heartless stabbings – Lords Of Chaos unleashes hatred in multiple ways. “Dead” unto himself, others unto the public. The duality of morphing messages to fit one’s own desires versus mortal enlightenment, all supported by Åkerlund’s SFX team and pints upon pints of spilled, sickening accents.
From the minute Culkin introduces us to his quaint “seal-flogging” Norwegian home life – before Mayhem “takes off” – to his third act transformation out of destructive worship, Euronymous is a most cataclysmic agent of social distortion. A character who’s childhood ski resort pictures are snapped in matching family sweaters, now erecting a literal dungeon hangout where like-minded hellraisers appropriate Nazi rhetoric and plot how to awaken sheeple from their toxic optimism. A fine line between authenticity and faking it, as disciples like Varg begin to see through incessant torch-it-all chatter without completion. Both Culkin’s performance and Åkerlund’s direction reveal Euronymous’ nature over time, starting with a new generation’s King Diamond but then doubling back on numerous events to reveal what we *didn’t’* see at first. It’s a trick, yes. One that speaks volumes about perception, false idols and commitment to cause.
Translation: Rory Culkin turns his prince of darkness into a career-defining role.
Denim vests and sewn-on patches define Culkin’s supporting cast, with Emory Cohen nailing Varg’s “burn architecture first, think later” dimness. Cohen matches Culkin for depth of character evolution from dissed fan to Kerrang magazine’s front cover. Preaching about adaptation versus sincerity – accusations directed towards Euronymous – but it’s Jack Kilmer as original Mayhem frontman “Dead” who allows himself to be swallowed most furiously (aka tragically) by Black Metal’s pain and agony. Covered in self-inflicted cuts and with a deep-seeded hatred of felines, Kilmer portrays genuine outcast isolation. Sky Ferreira dolls a sweet love interest for Euronymous and other metalheads earn their status in the Black Circle (Valter Skarsgård, Sam Coleman, Wilson Gonzalez), but Kilmer is the most accomplished actor here not named Rory Culkin.
Lords Of Chaos is unapologetic populous warfare from garage band beginnings until Jonas Åkerlund fades to black. “What the fuck have you done lately, poser.” Cinematographer Pär M. Ekberg captures frantic crowd moshes, debaucherous farmhouse all-night binges and inferno building fires always with Euronymous or Varg throwing horns into the air out of excitement. Primal leather-studded pandemonium that tells a sensationally disarming story complete with all the most nihilistic details. Satanism, harassed grannies, nightmare anthems – all plunged into a pit of despair thick like tar and suffocating in its all-consuming notoriety. Death to false metal, all hail Lords Of Chaos.
Lords Of Chaos will leave you shaken, torn to shreds and thoroughly headbanged-out thanks to Jonas Åkerlund’s torturous dedication to black-as-hell metal crimes. Decked in leather, soaked in damnation and ablaze with five-alarm intensity.