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5 Neon-Noir Movies to Watch After Blade Runner 2049

The jury’s decided: with an 88% critics score, and 81% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, Blade Runner 2049 has done its predecessor justice.

35 years ago, when the original Blade Runner came out, A.I. was a hypothetical. Today, it’s a reality that leaves techies increasingly nervous – lending the sequel’s philosophical questions new relevance and plausibility. What unites the two movies across the decades, however, is their common aesthetic, dubbed ‘Neon Noir’: movies with the sensibilities of a neo-noir film, the visuals of a Tokyo strip, and the soundscape of a Berlin nightclub. Backed by a $150 million budget, Denis Villeneuve may well have taken the genre’s optics to a new level; but he nonetheless owes a debt to the neon-noir classics below, ranging from psychological thriller to existential horror.

5) The Guest

Neon-Noir
The Guest, 2014 © HanWay Films

The Guest is genre-bending gem, listed on Wikipedia as an action-horror-thriller, to which IMDb tacks on mystery, and Rotten Tomatoes adds suspense for good measure. Read: boredom is not a risk. When a mysterious drifter arrives on the Petersons’ doorstep, claiming to have served with their son who died in combat, the family ask him to stay. Think ‘When You Give a Mouse a Cookie’, with considerably more shootouts. The plot is noir enough, but the neon is non-obvious. Nothing in the film’s structure demands its aesthetic. And yet the DayGlo grit and pounding electronic soundtrack never feel like they’re tacked on top. Instead, they unite a movie that’s equal parts stylish and disturbing, slow-burning and relentless.

4) Nightcrawler

Neon-Noir
Nightcrawler, 2014 © Bold Films

In Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal greases up as sociopathic L.A. photojournalist Lou Bloom. Catering to the morbid demand of local news stations, Bloom hovers over his police scanner to catch wind of car-wrecks, screeching to the scene camcorder in hand. As a slick, nihilistic portrait of its anti-hero, Nightcrawler ticks all the LA-Noir boxes. But it also succeeds as a critique of sensationalist media, which rewards Bloom’s exploitation with exposure. As one journalist remarks: “If it bleeds, it leads”. The film’s synth heavy soundtrack and retro poster harken back to hard-boiled 1980s cinema. But what really makes Nightwatcher so watchable is its ability to evoke the past while critiquing the present.

3) Spring Breakers

Neon-Noir
Springbreakers, 2012 © Muse Productions

If the last time you saw Selena Gomez was on the Disney Channel, you should reset your expectations before watching Spring Breakers. Consequences arise when Gomez’s spring break devolves into crime, sped along by three amoral friends and a charismatic drug dealer named Alien. A character’s moral decline is stock noir, but what makes Korine’s film really memorable is its fluorescent depiction of Florida’s underbelly. From blinking neon strips, to glow in the dark bikinis, vice has never looked so enticing.

2) Under the Skin

Neon-Noir
Under The Skin, 2013 © Film4

Under the Skin unfolds like a nightmare, full of Lynchian imagery and a distorted soundscape that would sound about right in Ridley Scott‘s Alien. While lack of plot may frustrate some viewers, few will be able to tear their eyes away from Scarlett Johannson as extraterrestrial femme-fatale, seducing unlucky men from the seat of her white van. The only out and out horror film on our list, Under the Skin is so dark it’s nearly opaque. Without spoiling anything, the ending asks more questions than it answers. Still – as both critics who love and hate it agree – the film is one of a kind, and sure to leave an impression.

1) Drive

Neon-Noir
Drive, 2011 © FilmDistrict

Now to bring the list full circle with another moody Ryan Gosling neon-noir: Drive. For those unfamiliar, imagine Baby Driver with a full electronica soundtrack and no jokes. Sound fun? Well, it isn’t. But it does deliver on Nicolas Winding Refn‘s artistic vision: a stylish bit of ultra-violence with its soul in the ’80s. Fans will also appreciate Only God Forgives (Drive set in Thailand), and Place Beyond the Pines (Drive with a motorcycle).

That’s all folks. Check out a full list of neon-noir movies here, and let us know what your favorite is in the comments below!

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  1. The Vern November 6, 2017

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