The Horror Honeys: Time to Meet the Devil...

Time to Meet the Devil...

A Revenge Honey Review

Only God Forgives (2013)

I will admit straight off that I am a HUGE Nicolas Winding Refn fan. Bronson, Valhalla Rising, and Drive are three of my favorite films ever and I can watch them on repeat. His style and commitment to an entirely non-traditional mode of story-telling just makes my little film nerd heart beat extra hard. So, when I heard that Winding Refn was re-teaming with Ryan Gosling for the revenge thriller, Only God Forgives, I was STOKED. 

Then… the reviews poured in.

With the exception of a few critics who appreciate the more art house style of cinema, Only God Forgives was getting panned across the board. Even the critics who loved Drive and Bronson were blasting Winding Refn’s new film for being pointless and more than just a little egomaniacal. For fear of ruining the image of one of my favorite directors, I decided to just stay the hell away from the movie for now. However, when another horror-loving lass told me I absolutely HAD to see the movie, I decided to give in and here is what I think: meh.

I'm feeling a little blue today. (wah wah waaah)
I love the crap out of experimental cinema: the more morose, oblique, and downright mindfuck-y the movie, the more I will probably love it. However, I tend to find that when a movie tries to be both a traditional narrative film AND experimental art house movie, it rarely works; this is what Nicolas Winding Refn does with Only God Forgives. Ryan Gosling plays Julian, a drug smuggler living the high life in Tokyo until his asshole brother gets murdered and their Tigermom (Kristin Scott-Thomas) shows up demanding that Julian get revenge. There are warring factions, and boxing, and karaoke, all of which sound intriguing but never really mesh into a coherent whole.

From this angle, you can almost see my... HOTFACE!
The police chief investigating the carnage is some sort of katana-carrying Zen master who likes to sing karaoke ballads after a hard day of chopping people’s hands off. It’s moments like those, coupled with glowing neon clubs, and long dreamscape establishing shots that end in bloodshed, that give Only God Forgives the aura of a David Lynch film. The problem is that unlike Lynch, Winding Refn doesn’t seem to see any of the ridiculous humor in this film. 

For example, Scott-Thomas and Gosling have the kind of mother/son relationship that would make even Norman Bates step back and say, “Hey, woah, guys! Maybe cool it a little there, huh?” In a dinner scene where Kristin Scott-Tigermom compares her sons' penis sizes, rather that plumb the depths of awkwardness inherent in this tragicomic moment, Winding Refn allows Gosling to sit there, stone-faced, like a corpse. The moment passes and nothing really comes of it, other than making the audience’s skin crawl.


Without doubt, the standard Winding Refn elements are present in Only God Forgives: the cinematography is gorgeous and the soundtrack is phenomenal. But between a story and characters that never really flesh out (maybe this is the point… there could easily be some metaphor buried in there that needs repeat viewings to find) and actors that seem mostly on auto-pilot (with the exception of Scott-Thomas who makes up for everyone else’s deadface in spades), it’s hard to say that I enjoyed Only God Forgives. Its not Bronson and its definitely NOT Drive, but truth be told, its still better than half the crap playing in theaters at any given time.

Is my shirt too tight? HA! Just kidding. No such thing.
If you didn’t like Drive, you’re sure as shit not going to like Only God Forgives. But, if you appreciated Nicolas Winding Refn’s style in any of his previous films, give Forgives a shot. Generally speaking, I think gore-lovers should support Ryan Gosling in these kinds of movies regardless. Every step Ryan Gosling takes from his Notebook, Crazy, Stupid, Love image is a step in the right direction, so whatever you end up thinking of Only God Forgives, at least it’s not some insipid romantic melodrama that makes it hard to remember why we love him.

Revenge Honey Stabby Points: 2 out of 5  

Even looking like this, you'd still do me. Don't lie.