Akerlund, Jonas, (Dir.) Lords Of Chaos (Film Review)

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Director: Jonas Akerlund
Film: Lords Of Chaos
Studio: 4 1/2 Films, Vice Films
Released: 2019
Reviewed: Feb 2019
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: JP

I don’t think there has been a Metal-themed film that has been so politically and culturally charged as LORDS OF CHAOS.   Most Metal DVD’s are what they are; a concert, a documentary, a horror-comedy, a collection of videos, pretty non-controversial in presentation.  This is one big exception.

Back in 1998 Feral House published a book written by Michael Moyhihan and Didrik Soderlind called Lords Of Chaos:The Bloody Rise Of The Satanic Metal Underground.  The book was written about Norwegian Black Metal, the main participants and some of the events that occurred.    For reasons I won’t go into now, the book was polarizing in the Metal community, some loved it, some hated it.   For what it is worth, I really enjoyed it and reviewed it for our Library Of Loudness section back in November of 2001.   Feel free to read my review for more detail.

The concept of turning the Lords Of Chaos book and the events of the Black Metal scene into a movie has been around for a decade. It had a false start in 2008 and in 2015 the film under director Jonas Akerlund finally got some traction.  It debuted at Sundance in 2018 and is now making the rounds on the film festival circuit and by the time this is published in February 2019, it should be available for you to enjoy on streaming service and DVD/Blu-Ray.

I spoke to many people about this film had the same sense of curiosity.  This would be a very easy movie to screw-up.  By that I mean create a generic, watered down portrayal of the scene events, characters and places to make the story more palatable for film audience.   The average (ie, non-Metal) person barely knows Metal exists, let alone details about one of the more obscure sub-genres.  To a Metalhead just saying the name ‘Varg’ most will know the infamous stories and have an opinion.  The Director had to tread carefully as not to alienate the few people that might actually watch this.  I’m pleased to report that the producers, directors, cast and crew did a pretty good job.

Lords Of Chaos is billed as a horror-thriller, but I think the old, seldom used classification of ‘true-crime’ might be slightly more appropriate.   The very, very short history version is that a small group of underground Metal fans and musicians committed some crimes in Norway in the early 90’s, including arson and murder.   The film is based on a true story.  Akerlund was wise to put a disclaimer right at the beginning of the film saying it was partly based on truth and lies.  This sort of absolved him of having to tell the story as historically accurate.

In terms of technical production and filming, I’m not a film critic but it was well filmed, the dialogue was in English and the characters had no accent while weird is forgivable.  The pacing is brisk and it never lulls.  I thought the acting was fine but again, I’m not a very sophisticated critic.   The movie at certain points is very graphic and easily earns its brutal violence tag.  The violence is not sanitized nor is it exaggerated for comedic effect like in many horror films.  The soundtrack is killer, lots of familiar Metal although I understand much of the music of  Darkthrone, Burzum, Mayhem was not licensed to be used in the film.  That is a bit of a strike against the movie…A music movie about bands and you can’t hear their music.    Overall, if I was not intimately familiar with the story I would be very satisfied with the film.  I enjoyed the stylized fantasy effects in the dream sequences and the soundtrack, while not totally appropriate was very Metal.

Referring back to my opening remarks in this review, this film is seen as charged because of the intensely misanthropic nature of the main people of whom the film is based on. In addition they do not endorse or participate in the film which is a black mark against it.  Some Black Metal purists (and I do not mean that as an insult) will easily find fault in the portrayal of the characters and events.  The very fact that this story was even made into a film is a repulsive idea to some and I get that as well.  It would be easy to hate this Americanized, sensationalized film.

I must admit I would have done things slightly differently; less comedy, eliminate the love-interest and tried for a more realistic portrayal of these young men.  The director choose to portray them as sad and perhaps pathetic and I think missed the mark on how truly misanthropic and evil these kids were.   The motivation to take a life or burn a bunch of churches is not just based on peer-pressure or a thrill-kill for bragging rights, there should have been a representation of a more deep-seated, anti-social, mentality. These kids weren’t just pretending to be bad, as was portrayed in the film, they were bad. They were inherently far more angry, alienated, racist, sexist, homophobic, violent, and had far more interest in weapons, guns and military history and culture than the film demonstrated.   In addition, for a film about music sub-culture, there certainly could have been much more about music, how the band Mayhem toured a bit, how Emperor got started, how the band operated as a unit etc, much of that got glossed over or was not even mentioned in place of the shock value.

I really enjoyed Lords of Chaos, it was engaging, made me squirm in places because I knew what was coming in certain scenes so it wasn’t ‘shocking’ per se,  just creepy and curious how the various scenes were going to represented on film.  I felt relieved that they did not really screw it up. It could have been a real mess and with many, many documentaries already in existence about this exact same fascinating topic, they had to bring something new to a semi-fictional retelling of an old story.  However, Akerlund and the writers and actors managed to do it.   The few complaints I had so minor as to be negligible.  I’m sure some can and will dig deep and find fault, but for me I’m looking forward to owning it and watching it again.   I think I’m going to go re-read the Lords Of Chaos book.  For an alternate perspective also check out the book, MAYHEM-THE DEATH ARCHIVES, also reviewed here on Metal-Rules.com.