Adapted from the 1998 book of the same title, LORDS OF CHAOS (2019) is a dark, fictionalized account of the 1990s Norwegian black metal band Mayhem, told from the perspective of the band’s founder, Euronymous. I found it a mixed bag, mostly flat but with some great scenes and acting, though it does a terrific job with its theme, which is that if you talk the talk enough, somebody’s going to walk the walk, and look for you to do the same.
The film runs through the rise of the black metal scene as Euronymous (Rory Culkin) and Dead (Jack Kilmer) find their voice in black metal and promote themselves by pushing satanism and onstage antics. After Dead kills himself, rumors spread of cannibalism and the band wearing pieces of his skull as pendants. Euronymous ends up running a record store and meets Christian, a fan. Christian walks away humiliated after Euronymous points out he’s a fan of Scorpion, which makes him a poser.
Christian comes back transformed as Varg, making his own music and fully dedicated to black metal. To push the envelope further, he starts burning churches. This sets him in conflict with Euronymous, who preaches doing just that but never did anything about it, as for him it was always about creating the aura of horror to promote the band, never actually creating it. Euronymous recruits Varg into Mayhem and begins taking credit for inspiring Varg’s actions. Eventually, Varg calls him out on being a poser, which brings it all to a head.
The film is pretty good. The suicide and murder scenes are disturbingly graphic, real, and take their time. The deep dive into the black metal music scene is fun and feels right. The theme is terrific: Does talking but not doing make you a poser, or does doing, just to one-up somebody else, make you a poser? On the other side, the film feels flat in a lot of places, the great music bits fall away after the first act, and the American actors and accents make the film feel Midwestern rather than European.
Overall, LORDS OF CHAOS was a fun watch for me. While I didn’t love it, I did like it.