Thursday, 22 December 2016

The films of Nicolas Winding Refn

It's rare for me to have a 'favourite director' as it often seems that directors I like change tack during their career and loose their appeal. Feature films are also complex, expansive beasts and are vulnerable to studio interference, marketing derailing and so forth all of which directors largely lack control over. Thus past favourites like David Lynch, David Cronenberg and Ridley Scott have produced varying fair during their careers. Lynch had a hard time after Fire Walk with Me, Cronenberg shifted his focus to more human dramas rather than the body horror I loved and Scott moved from sci-fi to big budget historical and military epics which are hulking, risky affairs that I've struggled with.

Like many I discovered the Dane Refn after his 2011 hit Drive with its awesome soundtrack by Kavinsky. The images of a timeless, lurid neon LA complete with low-life criminals and movie stunt men captured the 80s retro junket we've been on for the last decade. I've gradually explored the rest of his catalogue and, with his most recent offering, The Neon Demon, I have to say I'm now hooked.

His use of cinematography and particularly colour is stunning, and he has the Kubrick-ian ability to create cult images which not only capture the zeitgeist but survive to become embedded in popular culture. As Clockwork Orange's mascara'd eye and bowler hat will sum up the violence of dystopian-scarred-youth, the back of Refn's silent, scorpion-embroidered-baseball-jacketed anti-hero from Drive will be associated with car crime for decades to come. I believe Tarantino has this quality too (think thugs in black suits with skinny black ties) but that's a topic for another post.

What a lot of my favourites share is mixed reaction - they are often 'Marmite' and Refn is no exception. If you don't like slow, production-design-driven movies featuring are long periods of silence then his work is not for you. The Neon Demon has really divided critics and it's an excruciating watch at times to be sure, but that only made me love it more. It's also a very good film about women, albeit the most dreadful and dangerous kind you're likely to meet.

I'll leave you with some images from his movies and hope you'll give his work a try. But don't blame me if you don't like it.

Bronson, 2008, where English eccentricity meets ultra-violence courtesy of a feral performance from Tom Hardy
Valhalla Rising, 2009, sees Mads Mikkelsen chew his way through one of the most bleak and terrifying visions of the dark ages committed to film.

Drive, 2011, with that jacket. And that soundtrack. Languid neon low-life in a bleak, late 20th century hinterland.

Only God Forgives, 2013, swaps LA for Bangkok and techno for karaoke. Seen here is a beautiful mural that epitomises the set design.
The Neon Demon, 2016, where the violence against and between women is taken to an extreme and beyond into a sickening realm of gothic horror.


  1. I liked drive too! Thanks for the tip about this new (to me) director, I'll definitely check out the Neon Demon.

    Two directors that I've liked a lot are Darren Aronofsky & Zack Snyder. Both have got a great line up I think.

    Cheers :)

    1. Great stuff. I do like some of Aronofsky's work and in particular Black Swan. I've not seen Noah or The Fountain though. I like Synder's visuals but sometimes find the content of his movies not quite to my taste. But I am one of the seemingly few people who liked his version of Watchmen!

    2. The fountain IMHO is a fantastic movie, really strange but well worth it. Aronofsky, for me, has rarely put a foot wrong. His early work like Pi & Requiem for a dream were great. Sucker punch is a movie that wasn't that well received when it first came out I think...."too much like an extended film clip" they reckon. But I thought the story & visuals combined to make a unique and remarkable movie.

      Yeah, Watchmen got a bad wrap. Unfairly I thought too.

      Anyway, thanks for the interesting post and have a merry Xmas. Cheers :)

  2. He is also one of my favourite directors. So far everything has been very watchable and he creates this disturbing atomsphere in his movies that I really enjoy.

    1. Definitely - I can't wait to see what he does next. He's friends with Jodorowsky (and even appears on the recent Dune documentary) and has been connected with a rumored film adaption of the Incal saga!!!

    2. That would either be mindblowing or an epic fiasco. Eitherway, very exiting.

    3. Haha yeah, I'm wondering if the same will be true of Valerian. Looks beautiful but I'm not sure if they can capture the comic's spirit.