What is Neon Noir?

Over the weekend I watched Mute, the fourth film from director Duncan Jones. I really enjoyed the film and it reminded me a lot of Terminal.

Both films are shot in a similar style and share many of the same storytelling tropes. They are too bright and colourful to be film noir so I call these films Neon Noir. Although Mute doesn’t suffer from the same problems Terminal does.

Defining Neon Noir

First we have to define what Film Noir as the former doesn’t exist without the latter. According to Britannica.com Film Noir is:

style of filmmaking characterized by such elements as cynical heroes, stark lighting effects, frequent use of flashbacks, intricate plots, and an underlying existentialist philosophy. The genre was prevalent mostly in American crime dramas of the post-World War II era.

Neon Noir takes this stark lighting and turns it up to eleven using vibrant colors and dynamic unnatural lighting.

Other Examples

Alongside Mute and Terminal, the other two examples of the genre I’ve seen are Blade Runner 2049 and Atomic Blonde. While researching this post, I came across an article from That Moment In called 5 Neon-Noir Movies to Watch After Blade Runner 2049 which are:

I’ve seen two of the above five films and neither of them are Neon Noirs. Both Under the Skin and Drive (which I’m not a fan of) follow a standard Noir narrative of a loner seeking redemption. However it lacks the vibrant colours. In fact the That Moment In article gives the reason I don’t think Under the Skin qualifies.

so dark it’s nearly opaque

Drive isn’t as dark as Under the Skin – in ‘a turn the lights on’ kind of way – but the LA sunshine isn’t the same as neon pink.

I’ll need to watch The Guest, Nightcrawler and Spring Breakers and see if they meet my definition of Neon Noir!

Have you seen any Neon Noir Films? Let me know your favourites in the comments below!