Lords of Chaos (2018)

Lords Of Chaos (2018)

Review by Annie Riordan

Directed by Jonas Åkerlund

Starring: Rory Culkin, Emory Cohen, Valter Skarsgård, Jack Kilmer, Sky Ferreira.

Synopsis: Ist Krieg in Norway. 

You know what film I really liked and actually own on DVD? The Untouchables, Brian De Palma’s 1987 homage to Capone’s Chicago, circa 1930something. Which I myself find weird because I’m not the world’s biggest De Palma fan. And I hate Kevin Costner with a passion. Not really all that fond of Sean Connery either, truth be told. But man I loved The Untouchables. Despite the fact that its only brush with historical accuracy might have been when a history professor sneezed in the theater once whilst it was playing. Man, The Untouchables is technically a terrible movie. But I love it, and you know why? Because it’s a fucking movie, not a historical lecture. 

I was not in Norway in the early 1990s. I’ve never been to Norway. I have no way of knowing what truly transpired between Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth and Kristian “Varg” Vikernes. But here’s the thing: you probably weren’t there either. The only people who do know are either dead, crazy, or not talking about it. The ones who are not dead or crazy have every right to condemn and avoid this movie – they’ve already lived through it once. I can, believe it or not, understand how they feel. I lost a friend to murder once. The murder was documented on a true crime show. The show itself didn’t bother me, but the ignorant comments left by the YouTube trolls did. Nobody who was a part of a terrible thing wants that thing to be critiqued by people who don’t know shit about that thing, but who arrogantly consider themselves an authority on the subject nonetheless.

So yeah, I watched Lords Of Chaos. Not as a documentary or even a biopic. I watched it as a movie. And I will be reviewing it as a movie. Because that’s all it ever can be for me. And that’s as much justifying as I’m willing to do. Because fuck you, I will watch whatever I want and I owe you no explanations.

Now, onto the review, you fuckers.

Øystein Aarseth is a pretty typical teenage boy: bored, disdainful of the society he benefits from, determined to rebel against as many norms as possible. He starts up a band in mom’s basement, but he’s not content to be just another metal band in a sea of cacophony. He’s going to stand out, metal heads and armored shoulders above the rest. He invents his own riff, a sound never before exploited to its full potential. Øystein has founded black metal. Now he just needs the perfect singer for his band. 


The perfect singer comes along in the form of a Swedish kid named Per Ohlin, an angelic blond boy with a blistering demo tape and a penchant for killing small animals. His vocals are exactly what Øystein has been looking for and he hires the weirdo before the stench of dead, crucified rat can be aired out of his car. Their band, Mayhem, quickly becomes the absolute definition of Extreme. Their music is brutal, their lyrics cold enough to kill, and their lead singer is just…well, fucking insane. Per, who goes by the stage name Dead, lives in a constant state of morbid despair. He buries his clothes before a performance to ensure that he will reek of the open grave. He smears his already pale face with corpsepaint. He eschews glue fumes, preferring instead to huff on the stench of a birds rotting remains in a brown paper bag. He cuts himself open on stage, splattering the frenzied audience with his blood. There is no pretending with Dead, it’s all or nothing. Which makes his suicide in early 1991 a real pisser. Now short one amazing vocalist, Øystein turns his loss into an opportunity. 


He photographs Per’s corpse. He fashions necklaces from pieces of the kids shotgun shattered skull. He cements his own reputation for being the ultimate badass mutherfucker, leader of The Black Circle, numero uno head honcho of the black metal community. He also loses his bassist, who disgustedly refuses to accept the skull fragment Øystein demands he wear as a member of Mayhem. Pissed, and determined to stand his dark, frozen ground, Øystein opens a record store called Helvete and begins signing other bands to his own label, Deathlike Silence. 


Eager to be accepted into the Black Circle is a bumbling clod named Kristian, whom Øystein initially dismisses as a poseur due to a Scorpions patch he spies on the dude’s jacket. But Kristian is every bit as determined as Øystein to be the coldest, darkest mutherfucker in metal Norway. Cue the inevitable dick-measuring as Kristian – now calling himself “Varg” – deliberately begins one-upping Øystein at every available opportunity. Soon, Norway is dotted with the smoldering remains of many a Christian church as Varg makes arson his chosen medium. Seeing Varg hailed as a hero by their peers, Øystein quickly takes credit for the burnings, citing himself as the inspiration for and the brains behind every fire. It’s a ridiculous pissing contest that gets less and less amusing as time goes on.

When mutual friend Bård Guldvik Eithun (stage name Faust) brutally stabs a gay man to death, Varg challenges Øystein to at long last put up or fucking
shut up. After somewhat reluctantly participating in a church burning with both Varg and Faust, Øystein goes back to business as usual, determined to keep quiet about the fires and the murder. Varg, however, has a bottomless ego demanding to be fed. He decides to leak it to the press that the Black Circle has committed the arsons, is behind the unsolved murder and are to be feared, respected, and held in awe by all. But, you know, mostly him. Proclaiming himself Count Grishnackh, Varg blows everyone’s cover, his own included. Shit swiftly spirals out of control. The crazy is spreading faster than the clap. To say that Varg’s plan to crown himself as He Who Shall Not Be Fucked With backfires is akin to suggesting that most members of the family Ursidae prefer to defecate in heavily forested areas.

But the worst still hasn’t happened yet.

I found this film to be…okay. Not bad. Not brilliant, although it has its moments. Jack Kilmer (son of Val) in particular nails Per “Dead” Ohlin almost as hard as Per nailed rodents to popsicle stick crosses. For all that he was a depressing, deeply disturbed, cat-killing lunatic, his suicide scene is devastating to watch. I also wasn’t sure going in if I was going to be able to fully buy into a Culkin kid playing Øystein Aarseth, but I was impressed. I admit it, the kid can act. Less convincing was Emory Cohen as Varg. I never really bought all the way into his performance, but just knowing that the actor is Jewish made me admittedly very happy. I’m petty, sue me. And holy shit, how the fuck many kids does Stellan Skarsgård have? Okay, I looked it up. Eight sons. EIGHT of those gangly mutherfuckers being all stretchy skinny scarecrow creepy wandering around all over the place. And Valter Skarsgård (as Faust) looks so very much like his brother Billy that I kept expecting him to wave a paper boat in front of Varg’s face.

At times, this film is wickedly funny. Other scenes are so heavy handed that they fall flatter and heavier than a manhole cover on a pancake. Sometimes, none of it makes any sense whatsoever and attention drifts as it plods along.The murder scenes (two of them) are brutally endless. The camera does not cut away, or blink, or care about your discomfort. They are very difficult to sit through simply because they will not end until you’ve seen every last single second of the pain and agony. It’s not glamorous, it’s excruciating. And it should be. Much like black metal itself, murder should not be emulated, nor have an adoring audience. 

So yeah. There you go. A movie, just like a million other movies. It didn’t change any of my opinions or alter any of my beliefs. The world didn’t come to an end by my watching it, I have no feelings of guilt and I don’t feel like I betrayed anyone by watching it. It’s. Just. A. Movie. You may now proceed with your regularly scheduled lives.