Only God Forgives is set in hell. The Thailand in this movie is a thick bristling jungle of neon lights, dark streets; all steeped in an ethereal glow. The characters are their own tormentors, each one twisting apart in agony like worms pinned to cork, drowning in their own guilt. No one is good or bad, such concepts are far too throwaway for this film, instead they simply act out an increasingly doomed series of vignettes, drawn to hell like Moths to candles until they just burn away to nothing. It takes place in a land between time, much like the directors previous film Drive; Drive taking place in a faux 80’s neo-noir paradise, this instead takes place at the heart of a sweaty labyrinth of debauchery, at the alter of a fallen city.

The direction is perfect, exacting, precise; Nicholas Winding Refn creates each still as a photograph, as a painting, with the sort of poetic and romantic vision Peter Greenaway uses, but in a filthy, urban setting. Prostitutes sit in pink lounges made up like Dolls, amidst floral wall paper and arranged lillies, sitting silently whilst a drug dealer is crucified in his own lounge chair, and its beauty makes it all feel terrible. There is not a relenting second, even in moments of silence, which they are many; Refn understands the importance of dialogue and it manipulation, even in moments of inaction, the long breathy moments between scenes that let the images you’ve witnessed sink into your brain, coupled with the flawless score and juxtaposition of all this pound the tension harder, like a tent pen into your mind. It turns the screws and your stomach knots.

Ryan Gosling is a stoic figure throughout the movie. Whilst harsher critics could see his performance as wooden and unresponsive, the rippling rage within his character barely contained under a zen facade is just another part of the boiling pot of tension. He is resolute to his fate, holding steady against tides of poison that simply wash over him, but you can feel the bluffs and buffets underneath.  The moments where you get a glimpse of this anger are the points where it almost becomes too much to bare, and watched through caged fingers you wonder what will happen next. The film is unpredictable and dense, much like the neon city it takes place in. It takes you places, toys with the conventions of revenge and violence. The unnamed police chief, the one people simply know when seeing, is an avenging angel, cutting reminders of guilt with a sword pulled from between the shoulder blades; simultaneously there and not there, is gentle, calm, collected, a lover of art and music and without remorse; justice in the flutter of the watchers heart.

Only God Forgives creates a tension like a varnish. It covers everything in the movie. Every perfectly framed scene is coated in the knowledge it will all go horribly wrong. It wrenches the guts and pulls at your nerves. Its tightly wound and the final delivery just lets it go. It grows in you. Every cell is steeped in anticipation, expectation.

So is my house now.

I burned the carpets and the curtains, got new furniture, it wasn’t enough.

I buried my review copy of the film in my garden, all the flowers grow wrongly now.

Wrongly and dramatically.

Advertisements