From the start, Lords of Chaos is not the hard hitting doc-style account of events that befell the Norwegian Black Metal scene, and Jonas Åkerlund’s opening that this is ‘based on truth, lies and what actually happened’, sets the tongue-in-cheek tone that is the film’s magic, which confirms it as a unique and precious encapsulation of an even more absurd story, and one that will prove infamous, having audience members thus far fainting and one seizure during its screenings.
Set in an Americanised Oslo and Bergen in the 1980s/early ‘90s, it tells the story of the infamous founders of Norwegian Black Metal - the band Mayhem, with our unreliable narrator Øystein/‘Euronymous’ (Culkin), who plays his leader in ‘terror incarnate’ with a playful vitality that’s soft around the edges, the sweet offset (despite being the ‘leader’, he is all talk) to Kristian ‘Varg/The Count’ (Cohen) and cold stoned sociopath ‘Faust’ (Skarsgård), followed by the film’s almost angelic presence-Pelle/‘Dead’ (Kilmer), whose real-life suicide caused the chain reaction that would lead to… well, a film like this being made.
That Norwegian Black Metal seemingly originated not from a group of threatening blood-drinking Satanists, but a group of comfortably middle-class teenage boys that have their rent paid for their parents even when ostensibly living out their great ‘rock and roll dream’ of drugs, booze, and nihilism is played for laughs, and it’s comedic tone doesn’t let up, despite featuring slasher scenes that wouldn’t be out of place in a Fulci or Argento giallo, and featuring a Sigur Rós soundtrack that adds an emotional depth.
Despite this, the distance works to give the film a disjointed feel, the tone always on top of and outside of its subject matter, ready every second with a joke at its expense. The early 1990s black metal scene is in opposition to what Øystein mocks as the Swedish ‘life metal’ that was popular at the time - a true celebration of chaos, death, and destruction, in juxtaposition with the reality. Cushy lives working at the record store that his parents have funded, eating kebabs all day and faux-posturing in medieval garb at night.
The sudden veer towards a horrific hate crime is one that is inserted into the film almost as casually as how the real-life band and members of the ‘black circle’ appear to have reacted at the time, but what Lords of Chaos is about - like another Culkin vehicle (albeit for Rory’s brother) Party Monster - is the tried and tested story of rags to riches to downfall we love so much, one of rivalries and the struggle for power and how this struggle sours friendships.
Straddling black comedy and horror, Lords of Chaos proves that the best -and most horrific-films of the genre are ones that make you bubble over with tears and fear and laughter in one giant contradiction.
LORDS OF CHAOS / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: JONAS ÅKERLUND / SCREENPLAY: DENNIS MAGNUSSON, JONAS ÅKERLUND / STARRING: RORY CULKIN, EMORY COHEN, JACK KILMER, VALTER SKARSGÅRD, SKY FERREIRA / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 29TH
Expected Rating: 4 out of 10