Andy Warhol allegedly said that “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” But what about those who are already infamous? Well, judging from director Jonas Akerlund’s latest film, they’ll get their own two-hour biopics.
Based on the sordid true-life rise and fall of the Norwegian black-metal band Mayhem, Akerlund’s Lords of Chaos is a depressing, queasy, and at times darkly comic tale about group of young Scandinavian sociopaths out to take the music world by storm with heavy-gloom riffs, pledges to Satan, and an ever-spiraling hunger for notoriety that would end in a body count. You can’t buy press like that, even in death.
Set in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the film stars an excellent Rory Culkin (Macaulay and Kieren’s younger brother, who nearly 20 years ago starred in You Can Count on Me) as Oystein Aarseth — a charismatic, stringy-haired outcast from Oslo who fronts the garage band Mayhem under the evil-sounding stage name Euronymous. And, as we soon learn, his tale is one that’s told from beyond the grave, like a head-banging version of Sunset Boulevard’s Joe Gillis. “I was brought into this world to create suffering, chaos, death,” he says in an archly sarcastic voice-over at the outset of the film. “This is my story, and it will end badly.”
That’s putting it mildly.
Euronymous is the ringleader of a bunch of burnout numbskulls, and he talks a mean game about revolutionizing metal and instilling fear in the square, law-abiding world of conformity and hypocrisy. Deep down, though, beneath all the black leather and white kabuki face paint, he’s really just a Barnum-esque showman pushing nihilistic shock and awe for fame. And soon enough, his principles — or lack thereof — will be put to the test when the band takes in a new bassist (Emory Cohen’s menacingly creepy Varg) to fill out a lineup that’s a man down after the troubled lead singer (Jack Kilmer) blew his head off. Soon, the two will be locked in a rivalry over who’s more hardcore and authentic — a psychotic arms race that includes pagan worship, burning down churches, and eventually murder.
Akerlund, a flashy and talented Swedish music video director who’s worked with Madonna, Beyonce, and Lady Gaga, displays an undeniable visual flair for provocative images and quick-cutting hallucinogenic assaults. But his narrative sensibility and sense of tone are less polished. Not every film, of course, has to have likable characters. Still, there has to be something to grasp onto. Instead, he pummels the audience with violence, gore, and a soundtrack of repeating sledgehammer F chords. In Lords of Chaos, you never really know what these dim lost boys are rebelling against or manage to get inside of their heads… not that you’d ever want to. C+
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