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Lords of Chaos: A Bad Story, Made Into a Worse Film

Rory Culkin is hot but he couldn’t save this movie.

Lords of Chaos, released in 2018, is a movie that attempts to tell a dramatized account of Norwegian black metal band Mayhem from the point of view of morally grey frontman Euronymous. It romanticizes a true story of a band whose fascination with all things dark and macabre spilt over into the real world, culminating in the suicide of the band’s vocalist Dead (Pelle), a series of church burnings, and the eventual murder of Euronymous. The movie itself has its moments but is an overwhelmingly hard watch. There were parts where I had to physically pause the movie, take a walk, and repeatedly apologize to the friend who I was watching it with. Spoiler warning ahead.

The Good:

Lords of Chaos is a compelling movie. I felt fascinated with the band’s devolution from the ideas that the band originally held close and found myself rooting for our protagonist despite his questionable decisions. The antagonist and Euronymous’ eventual murderer Varg (originally Kristian), played by Emory Cohen, does a fantastic job of being the most punchable character in the movie. Cohen plays the power-hungry fanboy perfectly, managing to be both dangerous and incredibly cringe at the same time. Varg’s tension with Euronymous is palpable, and every minor overstep during their power struggle feels like a punch in the gut. I thoroughly enjoyed Cohen’s performance of an incel-turned-murderer, and I also find it funny that the real life neo-Nazi Varg Vikernes objected to being played by a Jewish actor.

Ohhh my god he's so annoying and I want to punch him so bad.

The relationship between Euronymous and Dead (Pelle) feels genuine, and it hurts to see Dead’s descent into depression and eventual suicide. At first, Culkin’s character admires his dedication to all things death and destruction, but Dead’s obsession with death forshadows his darker intentions. Pelle’s character in Lords of Chaos is considered the most accurate and factual portrayal of the movie, and if you ignore some of the incredibly graphic and gory scenes, his arc and relationship with Euronymous is done really well- a complicated and nuanced relationship, based on mutual admiration and a set of shared, but dangerous, ideals.

Also, Rory Culkin looks sooo good in this movie, and I truly appreciate seeing him with corpse paint and crop tops.

The Bad:

This movie would be so, so much better if it was a low-budget film student’s movie instead of a professionally directed film shown at Sundance. It takes itself far too seriously, and the haphazard narration from Culkin brings the tone from genre pioneers falling down a dangerous path to angsty emos committing felonies for fun. Throughout the film he drawls about ‘true Norwegian black metal’ and calls everyone, including his best friend, a poser. It feels like an angsty teenager claiming nobody understands him. I genuinely had to pretend that it was a movie put together by a group of film students in order to genuinely enjoy the film and keep from cringing.

Also, the movie occasionally goes into dramatic-flashback-hallucination-montage mode where it decides to just throw together a bunch of Pelle’s gore scenes, him screaming, and the various crimes Euronymous commits with dramatic music in the background. While I can appreciate tasteful flashbacks, I feel that this was a really tactless way of portraying the lingering trauma Euronymous has after Pelle’s suicide. I think they could’ve put more thought and effort into showing how it affected him, and it was a really lazy cop-out. Euronymous’ trauma is just kind of unaddressed or shown as him being dedicated to ‘true Norwegian Black metal’, like when he made their album cover a picture of Pelle’s dead body and turned pieces of his skull into necklaces. They totally could’ve gone deeper and talked about how the loss of his friend affected him beyond just ‘scary flashback’.

The Ugly:

So many gross scenes. Jesus Christ. Not even tasteful gross, or necessary gross, but graphic, overly romanticized self-harm, animal sacrifice, and homicide. I can understand necessary gore; the story being told is, by nature, gory. The band put the uncensored suicide of their vocalist as one of their album covers. However, a lot of the gore wasn’t necessary at all! In one scene Pelle kills a cat- that was confirmed to never have actually happened! A lot of the gore scenes were so drawn out and overly romanticized that I had to genuinely apologize to the friend I was watching the movie with. It was disgusting, triggering, and entirely not needed. The movie just revels, like an angsty teenager, in being graphic, emo, and uncensored.

The end of the movie also has a narrated epilogue where Euronymous tells the audience that he doesn’t regret dying, because he did something really cool with his life and pioneered ‘true Norwegian Black Metal’, which just feels so tasteless because the real life Euronymous ACTUALLY DIED. If it was a made-up character, sure. But he was a real person who was actually murdered??

Overall, Lords of Chaos isn’t good. However, if you look past the really bad scenes, it’s enjoyable and entertaining. Unfortunately, those scenes are so so hard to look past. This movie could have been so much better with different directing and historical accuracy. Do not let the hot edits of Rory Culkin fool you!!

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