Thursday, 13 June 2019

Lords of Chaos ★★☆☆☆

Here is the church and here is the steeple. Mayhem was a band made of terrible people. Which is a difficult thing to film, as Lords of Chaos illustrates by being a complicated and yet simple mess. Like when you order a subway with everything on it, except in Lords of Chaos, instead of meatballs... it's DEATH! 

Starring Rory Culkin and Emory Cohen, it appears to be a story about the origins of True Norwegian Black Metal and specifically the bands Mayhem and Burzum, but it's more about their psychopathic behaviour... I'm a huge heavy metal fan, but never of Black Metal, I always found the vocals and childish aggressive nihilism annoying. Well not always, when I was a childish nihilistic self-loathing teen, I loved it. I never really enjoyed the thought of murders or sniffing corpses, however. Call me a prude if you will. 

In the movie, Mayhem was formed by Euronymous, a possible European pun on the god of rotting corpses 'Eurynomos' from Greek Mythology. It had been over a decade since Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and the rest of the heavy metal gods had been endlessly blamed for pretty much every murder and suicide in the world and a collection of nihilistic metal fans missed the energy that came from that.

The crazy life of Mayhem comes thick and fast, as what would've been the climax of a Nirvana movie, is simply the first plot point in Lords of Chaos. Dead, the singer of Mayhem was a tortured soul, and was often seen doing things like smelling a dead crow from inside a paper bag, to get the 'smell of death'. His obsession with death, his hatred of cats and his obvious mental illness meant that he eventually shot himself in the face with a shotgun and you can still find the image online as Euronymous used the picture he took of his body as an album cover. The film is a depiction of horrible mental illness and cult-like behaviour, which results in increasingly extreme behaviour from the band. Some of the scenes are so real and visceral I felt physically ill. Like when you think you've accidentally sent a nude pic to your niece. 

The tone is very confused, and Rory Culkin is, for equal lengths, charming, interesting, grotesque and terrifying. You never really know how you are supposed to feel, who you are supposed to empathise with or what the message is. Like, half the time you are living vicariously through them, imagining what it's like to be in a successful band, partying all the time, then someone does something abhorrent and then you're asked to try and empathise with the joy again immediately after. It's like a modern equivalent of the Ludovico technique from A Clockwork Orange, except in this circumstance you end up becoming a serial killer. 

It's not a perfect film, and it definitely leaves you with an opinion on Mayhem, but it's basically a very busy film that can't decide who its protagonist is, or whether he is empathetic or not, so while I enjoyed it as historical research (of which a lot of it is inaccurate) a lot of people won't like it at all. Black metal fans won't like it, Mayhem fans will hate it, and horror or crime fans might find less than they expect from it. 

David Roberts

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