Lords of Chaos (2019)

Ok, right up top I have to say I really liked this movie. I had only heard of it because of the Evolution of Horror podcast, so I didn’t even know much about the subject matter and was actually expecting more of a horror movie, at least in the conventional sense. Lords of Chaos is definitely horrifying, but probably not exactly a horror movie. I’m including it here because it’s stuck with me so well. And because there is a horror to it.

I should note as well that there are many different perspectives on the actual people who were involved in the events of the film. I don’t know anything about this band, black metal, or the 90s metal scene in general, so I’m going to be writing only about how things are presented in the movie, which attempts to present Euronymous sympathetically and Varg (who is a nazi and can fuck off) the opposite way. 

The choice in portraying the characters in these ways is important, though: It wouldn’t be all that hard to have made this movie about a young and eager Varg, trying to impress the coolest guy in the coolest band, only to have been taken advantage of and then feel threatened by Euronymous. Even if their characterization were similar (for example if both of them were hateable for different reasons), that allows room for some audience members to become sympathetic to Varg. And leaving room for nazi sympathies would make this a very different and much worse movie. 

I don’t personally care if the real Euronymous was putting on an act or not, or if this representation of him was entirely fictional. The film concedes that it’s based on “truth and lies,” so audiences shouldn’t have an expectation of historical accuracy. For the purposes of storytelling, Euronymous—the character—worked well.

Despite being a biopic of a metal band—sorry, true Norwegian Black Metal band—whose music I could not care less for, Lords of Chaos really did hit me with a lot to think about. Specifically, the way certain subcultures lend themselves easily to the sort of escalating actions that ultimately resulted in Euronymous’ murder. 


This one-upmanship begins the very first time we see Euronymous and Varg interact. Who’s metal, who’s a poser? As Euronymous rants to his friends, “all those speed and death metal bands, all that Swedish shit. All they do is celebrate life and party. They should just call it life metal. We play Black Metal. True Norwegian Black Metal.” His consistent use of the word true when naming the kind of music they listen to and play underlines the culture of being vouched for or having proven yourself.

This idea of true/poser binary resembles fascism, which is essentially the politics of in-groups. It’d never really occurred to me to make this connection before, but I guess since some of the characters in this movie are literal nazis, I was primed for it. “Either you do it for the cause and you take action, or you do it because you want attention and you want to be another stupid-ass celebrity rock star,” Varg says. As the requirements for being a part of the in-group narrow, the group itself splinters and collapses. In the film, Euronymous is more or less the creator of black metal, but by the end he’s murdered for being a poser.

The more we get to know Euronymous, the more we can see that he realizes he’s created something out of control. His evolution throughout the film not only propels the narrative, but also attracts and compels the audience to keep watching. When we first meet him, his black metal persona is almost all of what we see, he doesn’t let us in and the filmmakers don’t show us more. Then, we see him becoming more and more uncomfortable through his non-verbal responses.

Finally, he begins communicating that they need to slow down, they need to stop. He frames it to the band as a security concern, but still his actions make it clear that it’s more than that. By the end of the movie, he’s explicitly said it was all an act, and we see him express vulnerability several times. Despite saying earlier in the film that “I don’t have any friends and neither should you,” Euronymous’s conversation with Jason from Kerrang magazine is briefly interrupted when he’s questioned about Pelle, and we’re given a flashback to him crying over his body.

Lords of Chaos begins with someone we are intimidated by, and ends with someone endeared to us. It’s the converse of a show like Breaking Bad, where we see a character descend. Instead, we’re watching someone grow and become comfortable with himself. Euronymous’ transformation isn’t a train wreck that we can’t look away from; it’s the opposite of that. It’s hopeful.

Well, it could’ve been. 

So what makes this movie horrific? What is it that sticks with me? Well, there’s Pelle’s brutal death scene.

But beyond that, the sequence when Varg stabs Euronymous to death captures a realism that I wasn’t quite prepared for. The series of actions played out very much like what I imagine they would in real life—slowly. It’s a grueling scene that we know isn’t going to end well, Euronymous told us himself. While watching it, I really wanted him to get the keys in the door and get out of there. As Euronymous figures out what’s happening in his apartment, and finding himself unable to stop it was not only a terror, but a microcosm of his relationship to the black metal scene he created. The way that scene played out is truly a thing of nightmares.

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