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Lords of Chaos (Movie Review)

Lords of Chaos (Movie Review)
5 10

PLOT: Members of Norwegian black metal band Mayhem enjoy a rapid rise to notoriety when they begin committing extreme acts of violence and terror to bolster their way of life.

REVIEW: Most of the time when you see groups like Mayhem - all draped in black, facepaint, blood everywhere, screaming to the devil, brandishing swords and the like - you may think it's all an elaborate act. A pseudo-nihilistic shtick prepared in the name of looking as grim and solemn as possible while secretly hiding a more capitalistic goal: to make money off your image. And, with Mayhem - the subject of Jonas Akerlund's LORDS OF CHAOS (PRE ORDER IT HERE) - that seems a bit true, as pretenses of not giving a shit who hears your music gives way to pressing records. But some of the guys in this particular band really were that dark, and their grotesque exploits make for a sometimes compelling, sometimes redundant biopic of how they went from a small town garage band to a phenomenon thanks to at least two fatal tragedies.

Largely, the film focuses on Mayhem founder and self-proclaimed creator of "real Norwegian black metal" Oystein Aarseth, aka Euronymous, one part believer in the black metal cause, one part businessman happy to project an image of evil while not exactly practicing it. As played by Rory Culkin, Aarseth is charismatic and likely to take credit for other people's work, a poser who likes to call out others as posers. If his heart isn't exactly in it, Aarseth does surround himself with genuinely darker figures, like Dead (Jack Kilmer), the unstable lead singer of Mayhem whose obsession with death was very real, and Varg (Emory Cohen), a talented musician whose initially meek exterior hides someone who is truly dangerous.

Even though these guys worship death, commit murder and burn down churches, LORDS OF CHAOS follows the script of many a showbiz tale before it. Petty jealousies and one-upmanship threaten to ruin these lives, as the newbie becomes more "metal" than the established star and starts stealing the limelight. The film eventually establishes a rhythm where the band members do one terrible thing after another and the whole thing becomes a bit repetitive and ugly. After a while there isn't much of a reason to watch these sociopaths, except to see how low they'll go (pretty low), and though the performances are compelling enough, the characters never grow much beyond one-note cretins, save for perhaps Culkin's Aarseth. One point the movie tries to make is that it's difficult to separate the bluster with who these guys really are (indeed, sometimes you're unsure if the acts they're committing are based in reality or embellished), but that doesn't change the fact that they're a largely unpleasant group, growling and grimacing and doing their best to act as odious as possible.

Akerlund does manage to frequently disturb, in two particularly nasty murder scenes and a few surreal dream sequences. He also finds some very dark comedy in the lives of the band, leading to some of the movie's best moments, though you'll have to have a pretty warped sense of humor to chuckle at what goes on here. Overall, however, Akerlund's style is fairly traditional; he's reined in any over-the-top stylistic choices you might associate with him from his music videos (or his recent Netflix movie POLAR, which couldn't be more different than this). He gets performances that can be considered natural, I suppose, with Culkin projecting a modicum of humanity in Aarseth's more personal moments. Cohen, as the disturbed Varg, is just fine but the character never seems as psychotic as the movie might want him to seem. More fascinating is Faust (Valter Skarsgard - yes, another Skarsgard!), who lurks on the edges of the story and comes off as the most genuinely deranged of the bunch, as evidenced in the film's most repellent scene. Sky Ferreira pops up intermittently as a groupie of the band and Aarseth's eventual love interest, but the movie doesn't do anything pf interest with her.

I'll admit I was never much of a death metal fan (these guys would surely call me a poser for listening to Metallica or Megadeth), so it's possible the story itself will be of more appeal to people who are intrigued by this genre of music and the lives of the people who make it. There isn't a whole lot of music being made in the movie, however, as Akerlund is much more interested in the fronts these people put up than the music they talk so passionately about. At almost two hours long, the depressing misdeeds of a small group of Satanists becomes something of a grind up until the bitter end, but I'm not a practitioner of the dark arts, so what do I know. Maybe this whole thing is metal as f*ck.

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