A renowned Swedish director known for his boundary-pushing work in music videos, concert films and stage shows—among other things—it’s little surprise that writer/director Jonas Åkerlund is at Sundance with Lords of Chaos, a visually audacious, musically-oriented story.
Starring Rory Culkin, Jack Kilmer, Sky Ferreira, Valter Skarsgård and Emory Cohen, Lords of Chaos tells the astonishing true story of Mayhem, the Norwegian black metal movement’s most infamous band. After their vocalist’s suicide in the early ’90s, Mayhem founder Euronymous (Culkin) injected a mix of satanism and violent chaos into the group’s music to sell more records, and things got out of hand. Taking Euronymous’ ideas too far, bassist Varg Vikernes (Cohen) went on a churn-burning spree, culminating in a deadly rivalry between two bandmates.
“I think it’s a story that’s very noisy on the surface, and it’s one that has enough infamy to it that there have been all these books and documentaries, and people have looked at it different ways over the years,” VICE Films’ producer Danny Gabai noted, appearing at Deadline’s Sundance Studio with Åkerlund, Culkin, Ferreira and Skarsgård. “When we were putting this all together, Jonas had such a unique perspective on it. Jonas, for all of his blackness and doom, is actually a very sensitive flower, and I think there’s something really special there.”
Contemplating the events of the film for 20 years, the Lords of Chaos director came to an unexpected realization that would shape his approach to his Mayhem film: “At the end of the day, these were just young, passionate kids who had a lot of energy and some really big ideas, but played around with some dangerous stuff in the quest for fame, or infamy or whatever you want to call it. And ultimately, it got out of their control,” Gabai explained. “There was such a humanistic way to how he talked about it, making people realize that it was much greater than just a heavy-metal murder movie, that there was actually something really universal and humanistic and beautiful about this story.”
Speaking with Deadline, the film’s creatives acknowledged a controversy surrounding the film—claims that Mayhem’s Varg Vikernes and members of other bands at the time of the incidents on display disavow the film. “It’s kind of part of the whole black metal world to disapprove of a movie, but the truth is that we have been in contact with most of them, and the important players in this story are very excited about this movie, and they’ve been part of the development of the movie,” Åkerlund says. “That’s really what matters to us.”
“They reject the film, but they also kind of reject themselves,” Culkin added. “The film is sort of about inner conflict within the band. I don’t think they’re ever really satisfied with anything.”
To view more from Deadline’s conversation about Åkerlund’s black metal portrait, take a look above.
The Deadline Studio is presented by Hyundai. Special thanks to Calii Love.