With the combination of Polar (the Netflix-backed John Wick wannabe that released earlier this year) and now Lords of Chaos, Jonas Akerlund is staking his claim as the most juvenile filmmaker of 2019. Everything about both – equally awful – films smacks of exactly what a 14 year old thinks is cool, badass, and sexy, with a stylistic laziness to match. Telling the tale of infamous black metal band Mayhem, who terrorised Norway in the early ‘90s with a spate of church burnings and even murders, Lords of Chaos is lurid, explicit, and extremely messy, yet also manages to be utterly dull throughout.
At the centre of the saga sits Mayhem’s founder and guitarist Euronymous (Rory Culkin), a young man obsessed with creating a new metal genre, one that feels indigenous to Norway. Funded by Euronymous’s wealthy and supportive parents, Mayhem find niche but satisfying success, with a devoted fanbase won over by chaotic gigs at which dead crows and pig heads are staples. They get along happily until the self-harm of lead singer Pella (Jack Kilmer) escalates to suicide, taking Euronymous down a darker path until he hires new bandmate Varg (Emory Cohen), an aspiring Nazi who takes Euronymous’s violent rhetoric far too seriously.
Akerlund presents Pella’s suicide extraordinarily graphically, ghoulishly fixated on the blood and flesh without any attempt by his script (co-written by Dennis Magnussen) to explore the internal hurt that drives Pella. The writing is lazy and exploitative, and the later murders drag on for such a long time that you eventually become numb to the ceaseless stabbing, just waiting blankly for the scene to end. This script is met with unengaged performances across the board (and a distracting mix of American and Norwegian accents), especially in Culkin’s pervasive voiceover, in which he sounds like he’s rushing through his lines, eager just to finish up and go do something else.
On top of all these flaws, Lords of Chaos is also deeply visually unappealing, its cinematography, editing, and even colour grade making it look more like a student music video than a professional feature. This makes some sense, given Akerlund’s background as a music video director, but he proves curiously unengaged with the music itself, barely integrating Mayhem’s work into the soundtrack. It’s hard to tell who Lords of Chaos is for – hardcore metalheads will likely be put off by the soap opera storytelling and superfluous romance, and this very niche story isn’t close to fun enough to attract outsider interest.