Rory Culkin as Mayhem frontman Euronymous is one of the film’s high points.

Do you enjoy watching close-ups of a man stabbing another man dozens of times, with each squelchy impact lovingly mic'd? Then you may dig Jonas Åkerlund's Lords of Chaos, which features two such scenes. I found them unbearable—sheer cinematic sadism. But perhaps it's black-metal-fan catnip?

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Here's the thing, though: Lords of Chaos purports to be "based on truth... lies... and what actually happened," but its portrayal of Norway's nascent black-metal scene of the 1980s and '90s—notorious for its church burnings and ruthless murders—has been refuted by one of its real-life protagonists, Varg Vikernes (aka Burzum, played by a miscast Emory Cohen), the former bassist of Mayhem who killed bandmate Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth (played by Rory Culkin, who's good) in 1993. In a 2016 video on his YouTube channel, Vikernes said the filmmakers consulted with none of the musicians they're depicting. "It's just fiction, bullshit, Hollywood crap to make money. It's not an attempt to shine some light on the events. I'm not gonna see it."

That Lords of Chaos is classified as "documentary, horror, sci-fi, drama, and comedy" reveals the ridiculous mishmash of moods it encompasses. Add the fact that neither Mayhem nor Burzum gave permission to use their music in the film, and you have a project riddled with dubiousness. It's a serious handicap. Another questionable move—at least aesthetically, if not commercially—was enlisting American actors to play Scandinavians, adding another off-key note to what should have been a graver tone.

Based on a book of the same name by Didrik Søderlind and Michael Moynihan, Lords of Chaos revolves around the power dynamics between Mayhem guitarist Euronymous and Varg. The latter enters the plot as a meek outsider. A key scene involves Varg tentatively approaching Euronymous to praise his music. But the self-appointed innovator of "true Norwegian black metal" scorns Varg for the Scorpions patch on his jacket. Cut to Varg dejectedly going home and slicing off said patch.

Eventually, Varg summons the courage to give Euro a demo tape, and the latter instantly decides to release the album on his label, Deathlike Silence (Euro also ran a record store called Helvete—English translation: "Hell"). Soon after, Euro enlists Varg to become Mayhem's bassist.

Things turn very dark while also retaining an undercurrent of humor as Varg starts pushing Mayhem's members to convert their nihilistic words into action. Euro talks a big game, but when his new musical accomplice starts a church-burning rampage, he worries that it will harm his musical aspirations—and send him to the clink. Varg realizes that sensational stunts like torching houses of worship lead to magazine cover stories. Plus, his anti-Christianity stance isn't merely to help sell records. This is what true Norwegian black metal is about, motherfuckers.

Ultimately, Lords of Chaos is most interesting as a heavy-handed study of authentic artistic commitment versus the tendency of poseurs to "sell out." And if you're an atheist or agnostic, you might also derive much pleasure from watching the camera linger on Christian iconography and architecture being incinerated. So there's that, at least.