As mentioned a few times, I love films. I’ve spent a majority of my short life watching films and studying them – even majoring in a foreign language in college specifically because I loved French films so much. What I’ve recently realized is that I’m drawn to a very localized type of film: neo- or tech-noir. Neo-noir and tech-noir are a subculture of film noir which lasted from the 1940s-1950s. Film noir was popularized thanks to crime dramas featuring hardcracking detectives and police characters, not to mention the femme fatales.
So what is Neo-noir & Tech-noir?
Neo-noir is to film noir, what grunge is to rock. It’s a modernized version of film noir that includes similar themes. Neo-noir and Tech-noir films often feature a post-apocalyptic urban landscape set in the vague future with a flawed anti-hero traversing the story. Other telltale signs can include oversaturation/coloration of the scenes, stark lighting in close up shots (see chiaroscuro lighting) and plenty of violence or tension. In general both genres share a lot of characteristics with French New Wave films, neo-noir is set in the current time/recent past with heavy tones of realism while tech-noir is set in the future and often includes more science fiction tones (robots, etc).
****TRIGGER WARNING: Rape, graphic violence, gore, abuse, drugs, alcohol, sexual assault, animal abuse
Here’s a list of some of my favorite neo-noir and tech-noir films.
Guns Akimbo (2019) [Tech-noir]
This film was a wild ride from start to finish. Not only was I thrilled that Daniel Radcliffe was in another movie but Samara Weaving really stole the show with her batshit crazy character. Set in a futuristic world where a villanous group streams real life murder as a game online, Radcliffe finds himself thrust into the middle of a seriously fucked up group of people. This film is dark, gory, raw and yet imbued with a strange amount of comedy and growth.
**Delicatessen (1991) [Neo-noir]
A boarding house sits atop a butcher shop in post-apocalyptic France where fresh meat is hard to come by. The main characters spend their time trying to survive the chaotic building as well as the butcher as people continue to disappear. Creators Jeunet and Caro create a timeless world through their storytelling – a world that is dark, dirty, flawed and intensely saturated.
**La Cité des Enfants Perdus (1995) [Tech-noir]
(From the same creators of Delicatessen) In a topsy-turvy world where adults act like children and children are forced to provide and care for adults, our heros are Un (played by Ron Pearlman), a circus strong man and Miette, a young leader of the orphan children. Un is searching for his lost little brother Denree who was kidnapped by the mad scientist running the city.
**Ex Machina (2015) [Tech-noir]
Words cannot describe how much I love this film. Aside from fanboying over the all star, kick-ass casting of this film (cough* Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac* cough), everything about this was a masterpiece. Introducing a remote mansion, a beautifully crafted AI system and a helpless low level employee who won a free vacation – what could go wrong? This film will leave you with chills for days if not weeks.
Gattaca (1997) [Tech-noir]
While my mother was a biology teacher briefly, this was her go to film in class to explain genes and DNA. A fascinating science-led dystopia asks many large and uncomfortable questions: what is right? What is moral? How far can science go and still be deemed good? Plus who wasn’t obsessed with Jude Law, Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke in the 90’s? While the gore in this film is minimal and personally afflicted, the cinematography is peak neo-noir.
Nightcrawler (2014) [Neo-noir]
At times, this film was extremely uncomfortable to watch. A ruthless journalist chases violent acts across the city to be able to be the first to ‘break’ the news on air. With Jake Gyllenhal as the lead, this film encapsulates so much of what’s wrong with humanity: our obsession with gore and depravity in the media. Similar to Guns Akimbo, people tune in to watch the slaughter.
****TRIGGER WARNING: Graphic violence, abuse, drugs, alcohol
Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011) [Neo-noir]
This is one of my absolute favorite films – not necessarily for the gory storyline, but the acting, cinematography and soundtrack are divine. A nearly neutral, bordering on cool color palette sets the stage for this frozen thriller. There are higher levels of gore in this film than others and harsh juxtapositions between the present and past as journalist Mikael tries to solve a decades old cold-case. Also, Rooney Mara is absolutely iconic in this film. (But I’ll be that person – you should definitely read the books, they’re just as amazing).
****TRIGGER WARNING: Rape, violence, abuse, drugs, alcohol, sexual assault, animal abuse
I’m Your Woman (2020) [Neo-noir]
This film hit me like a train – I love Rachel Brosnahan from her stellar performance in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but I wanted to see how she’d be in a gritty, crime drama – and boy, was it a good film. I had no clue what the premise was prior to watching it and it lived up to every expectation I had. Meet Jean, a new mother married to a con-man, who is thrust into a dangerous journey to self discovery as her husband disappears after betraying his partners.
Other Popular Neo-Noir / Tech-Noir Films
- À bout de souffle (1960)
- Le Boucher (1970)
- Taxi Driver (1976)
- The Matrix (1999)
- Pulp Fiction (1994)
- John Wick 1-3 (2014-2019)
What’s your favorite genre of film?
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