Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

James Gunn | 2hr 29min

There is a sharp irreverence baked into the Guardians of the Galaxy series which goes beyond tension-diffusing quips thrown together in a writer’s room, or facile jabs at a super villain’s ridiculous comic book name – though no doubt it has featured its own fair share of both in the past. James Gunn’s greatest strengths are as a director of weirdos and misfits, often allowing him an escape from the typical studio trappings of restricted artistic control. His great success with The Suicide Squad in 2021 has rocketed him right to the top of the DC Films hierarchy just as his time with Marvel Studios is coming to an end, though with a farewell as playfully spectacular as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, there may be some concerns as to whether this move into producing might hold him back from a more hands-on approach. He might not be the next Terry Gilliam or Steven Spielberg, but his cartoonish eccentricity and creative reign over blockbusters certainly puts him in the lineage of both, injecting mainstream movie culture with his own colourful sense of humour.

What one might not be so prepared for when entering the most recent instalment of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise is just how painfully brutal it is, introducing a new group of ragtag oddballs in tragic counterpoint to Peter Quill’s team. While they set off on a mission to save a wounded Rocket, his comatose mind is reliving his past as an animal experiment. Gunn, being a self-proclaimed fan of the 1932 horror film Island of Lost Souls, wears his influences very clearly on his sleeve. The High Evolutionary is the Doctor Moreau of this story, cruelly mutating lower life forms into bizarre humanoid figures, and essentially positioning himself as their God. Lylla, Teefs, and Floor are the disformed mutants produced in the rejected Batch 89 alongside Rocket, whose extraordinary intellect makes him a reluctant accomplice to the High Evolutionary in his mad experiments.

These flashback sequences mark some of the most visceral scenes of Volume 3, turning Rocket into as sympathetic a character as a CGI raccoon can get. If there was ever a song to underscore his own self-loathing and trauma, then Gunn does well in expressing it through Radiohead’s acoustic version of ‘Creep’, accompanying him through a series of tracking shots in the film’s opening as he saunters through the team’s headquarters.

On an even broader level, Gunn’s development of his entire ensemble also deserves recognition. With an alcoholic Quill grieving the loss of Gamora, Drax getting in touch with his paternal instincts, Nebula completing her redemption arc, and Mantis finding new companions in a trio of unseemly monstrosities, only Groot is really left with little growth of his own in this film. Still, where each are left by the end of Volume 3 is perfectly fitting, lining up with the most gratifying needle drop of the series since ‘Come and Get Your Love’ and earning the shift from late twentieth century music into the 2000s.

More than just a talented writer of quirky outsiders, Gunn backs up his characters with a peculiar cinematic style that has always been well established in the Guardians of the Galaxy series, yet still competes with fellow Marvel directors Ryan Coogler and Taika Waititi in terms of pure visual audacity. Perhaps the trademark slow-motion walk is a bit played out at this point, but the production design during the extended heist scene within the Orgosphere, the biotic headquarters of the High Evolutionary’s nefarious operations, is quite easily a stylistic highpoint of the film. As Quill and his gang descend in a technicolour assortment of spacesuits and explore its fleshy interiors, Gunn lets loose with a string of amusingly bizarre set pieces, turning everything from the staff uniforms to the vibrant architecture into warped, Cronenberg-adjacent visions of whimsical body horror. It is hard not to wonder what Gunn might be capable of should he craft an entire film around such daring aesthetics.

As it is, there is still a lot in Volume 3 which expands it to a bloated two-and-a-half hour run time, including the introduction of the largely functionless Adam Warlock. This has less to do with Will Poulter’s amusingly airheaded spin on the comic book character, and more to do with his relative disconnection from the narrative. That said, Gunn still finds ripe opportunities to centre him in visual gags, paying homage to Michelangelo’s ‘The Creation of Adam’ in one scene that clearly parallels Noah’s Ark, and later awkwardly hanging him on the edges of a group hug. For all its flaws, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 rarely lets its humour get in the way of its character drama, and vice versa. As far as storytelling in the Marvel Cinematic Universe goes, this fine tonal balance and stylistic playfulness makes it a terrific send-off to the franchise’s most colourfully eccentric series.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is currently playing in theatres.


Infinity Pool (2023)

Brandon Cronenberg | 1hr 58min

When Brandon Cronenberg first lands us on the fictional Pacific Island of Li Tolqa in Infinity Pool, there is an eerily oppressive atmosphere running through its bright, luxurious settings. Much like Midsommar, we might assume that the horror of this location lies in some dark secret kept by the locals who wear grotesque masks and warn tourists not to leave the compound. Our introduction to the resort even comes through a series of upside-down tracking shots, tumbling us above pools, huts, and hotels with no sense of spatial orientation, and thereby evoking Gaspar Noé’s own dizzying camerawork. We are right to be unsettled about these vague suggestions of evil lurking on Li Tolqa, yet Cronenberg pulls off a chilling subversion of our expectations in his reveal of its true source – not the residents who are simply trying to live ordinary lives, but the tourists who exploit its laws and culture for their own destructive, hedonistic pleasure.

Among the most recent batch of visitors is James, an American writer who is on holiday with his wife Em, yet quickly grows attached to another guest claiming to be a fan of his work. Mia Goth continues her streak of brilliant horror collaborations here as the eyebrow-less, English-accent Gabi who sinisterly draws James deeper into a conspiracy that seeks to tear away his humanity, and who is gradually revealed to be a leader of sorts within a small cult of wealthy tourists.

Instrumental to her reign of terror on Li Tolqa is a local law protecting foreigners from capital punishment. If they are sentenced to death, then they can instead have a clone of themselves produced and let them be executed in their place. The first time James undergoes this process following an accidental hit-and-run, there is a spark of fascinated horror in his expression as he watches his double stabbed multiple times in the belly. From there, he finds his transition into Gabi’s inner circle an uneasy yet slippery slope, meeting a cabal of fellow vacationers who visit Li Tolqa every year to commit heinous crimes, and use the suffering of their own clones as a disturbing form of entertainment.

Cronenberg’s overarching metaphor may not be particularly subtle, but it is overwhelmingly visceral – the abuse of others inevitably leads to the dehumanisation of oneself, and once those self-preservation instincts are destroyed, a primal, deranged masochism takes over. Through its vacation setting, Infinity Pool even takes on a satirical edge in its depiction of Western tourists turning foreign destinations into their own personal playgrounds, holding reckless regard for local customs and citizens. In retrospect, perhaps those warnings to avoid leaving the heavily guarded compound aren’t there to protect the guests, but rather to contain them like wild animals.

Of course, with the science-fiction concept of cloning in Infinity Pool comes philosophical questions of identity, as several times we are led question whether it is actually the ‘originals’ being sacrificed rather than the artificial doubles who continue to live in their place. Cronenberg does not so much provide firm answers here than leave it as an uncomfortable possibility in the back of our minds. He especially uses this uncertainty to pull the rug out from under us in one scene when he leads us to believe the original versions of Gabi’s crew are being executed, only to reveal their actual selves in the audience cheering at their own demise – though even here, there are still doubts as to which characters are the ‘real’ ones.

On more formal level, the possibility that these tourists are copies of copies distance them even further from their humanity. At a certain point, the grotesque masks that they steal from locals and wear during their crime sprees become truer representations of their inner selves than their actual faces, transforming them into misshapen, demonic figures engaging in violent felonies, depraved orgies, and illegal drugs. Infinity Pool’s expressionistic visual style is fairly front-loaded with its vibrant neon lighting, but at the height of the hallucinogen-fuelled debauchery later in the film, Cronenberg lets loose on his nightmarish, mash-up montages, forcing us so deeply into James’ dazed mind that his and new friends’ contorted masks seem to come to life.

These frenzied nightmares of technicolour lens flares and surreal, unfocused imagery aren’t solely reserved for James’ drug-induced visions either, as the cloning procedure similarly warps his perceptions of reality through distorted visual sequences. In doing so, Cronenberg draws a formal connection between both dehumanising experiences, ripping James from his old life of stability and into a helpless, primal state. The appearance of one clone who has reverted to his most basic animal instincts supports this notion even further, and by the time James has completely submitted to Gabi’s Freudian mother figure, it is evident that he has hit the point of no return.

Much like Cronenberg’s previous film Possessor, there is a despairing cynicism which guides Infinity Pool through to its ambiguous end, dooming characters to meagre, joyless existences. Without the sweet release of death, this ongoing self-destruction becomes an endless loop of psychological corruption, as wretchedly consistent as the seasonal cycles that entice the same degenerate holidaymakers back to Li Tolqa every single year. For those who have already destroyed everything meaningful in their own lives, there is no such thing as home – just the invasion and obliteration of everyone else’s most sacred, personal spaces.

Infinity Pool is currently playing in theatres.

John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)

Chad Stahelski | 2hr 49min

Long before John Wick’s wife passed away, and even before his days as a professional hitman, death has been his most steadfast companion and cruellest enemy. It has bonded so close to his soul that oftentimes throughout this series he has become its literal personification, delivering swift ends to those who believe they can outmatch him. In this fourth chapter, Bill Skarsgård’s deranged villain, the Marquis Vincent de Gramont, even describes him as a ghost with nothing left to live, die, or kill for. He is only partially correct – the overwhelming desire for vengeance which motivates Wick to mow down waves of assassins often seems more a force of habit than anything else, though beneath that there is a much melancholier desire to meet his end with some humanity. Perhaps only then can he reacquaint himself with the peace he once knew during his short-lived marriage.

As a result, the purgatory-like settings that John Wick: Chapter 4 lands him in makes for a more darkly spiritual film than previous instalments, and instils the heightened stakes with an imposing formal majesty. This epic, globe-trotting narrative carries all the weight of his grand resolution to take down the High Table, which we have seen exert a divine authority all throughout the series, and which now fatefully draws him towards his final fight for freedom.

The scope of this narrative matches its enormous stakes and spectacle, spanning four separate continents and bringing magnificent visual style to each.

Just as significantly, director Chad Stahelski brings an astonishing creativity to each set piece along the way, delivering some of the finest action scenes in recent years. In one overhead tracking shot lasting several minutes, he slices the roof off a Parisian apartment complex and takes a gods-eye view of Wick’s violent conquest. Later as he fights his way through lanes of traffic around the Arc de Triomphe, a graphic dissolve smoothly transitions from a helicopter shot into a scaled-down model of Paris, above which the Marquis looms menacingly. From this dominant position, the High Table effectively becomes the omniscient, omnipotent god of Wick’s universe, seemingly manifesting new threats from the shadows.

Stahelski holds on this overhead tracking shot for several minutes as Wick mows his way through a Parisian apartment building, delivering a gods-eye view of his conquest.

Skarsgård’s wealthy narcissist clearly possesses his own violent streak, most of all evident in one scene involving a vicious hand stabbing, but he is also far less likely than those below him to carry out the dirty work. Where Keanu Reeves operates best as a dynamic physical presence and relatively minimal dialogue, Skarsgård commands entire scenes with an unnerving aristocratic charm, at home in the most opulent of Parisian settings. Eugene Delacroix’s painting ‘Liberty Leading the People’ forms a stunning backdrop inside the Louvre when the Marquis accepts Wick’s duel, drawing historical parallels to the lonely hitman’s revolution against the High Table, while the Palace of Versailles and the Palais Garner also lavishly host his nefarious operations.

This is more than great location scouting – the Palais Garnier already has immense architectural beauty, but Stahelski’s angles, lighting, and blocking makes it entirely cinematic.

Stahelski is not simply leaning on his location scouting for these incredible settings, but the way he lights and frames each with such vivid attention to detail makes for some tremendous scenic backdrops. The beauty of Barry Lyndon is specifically evoked in one Russian Orthodox cathedral which basks its ornate Renaissance architecture in the warm, golden glow of candles, and seems to expand its columns infinitely upwards towards the heavens. Within this holy sanctuary, Wick’s desperate prayers take the form of underground bargains, and personal atonement is found in the restoration of old relationships.

The cathedrals of John Wick are lit with warm, golden candles, and offer holy sanctuaries to Wick as he faces down his own mortality.

Historical tradition may run deep in this world, and yet in Stahlelski’s vivid lighting and futurist architecture he is also constantly reminding us of the modern culture which it must compete with. Here, the influence of Nicolas Winding Refn announces itself in a huge number of expressionistic set pieces, taking us from the neon-drenched Osaka Continental Hotel to a pulsating Berlin nightclub which cascades waterfalls down multiple storeys. If the success of other John Wick films can be narrowed down to a few superb sequences, then virtually every new scene in Chapter 4 is competing with the last in pure ambition and astounding visual style.

That Stahelski is capable of imagery and set pieces like this is only hinted at in previous John Wick films, and makes his future as a director beyond this series even more exciting.

Then there is the action choreography itself, transcending Stahelski’s passionate displays of mise-en-scène and infusing John Wick: Chapter 4 with a tactile, kinetic energy felt in every stunt and tracking shot. Nathan Orloff’s dextrous editing is certainly a highlight, but Stahelski is not afraid to sit with long takes during these fight scenes either. He and his entire cast commit to a level of practicality which is refreshing to see in an age of CGI spectacle, earning references to silent cinema genius Buster Keaton. Much like The General or Sherlock Jr, a film as brutally physical as this could have only ever been directed by an actual stunt performer who understands the incredible coordination of each set piece, creatively transcending mere back-and-forth blows between adversaries to incorporate fully interactive, constantly shifting terrains.

Clearly this is only the beginning of Stahelski’s love of cinema history though, with Chapter 4 going on to pay homage to noirs, westerns, martial arts movies, and even samurai films. These are more than just off-hand nods too, with the brand-new character of Caine playing on the trope of the blind, sword-wielding assassin, and refreshing it vibrant depth. That it is Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen in this part instils it with an even greater cultural authenticity as well, and further sets up an equal match for Reeves in physical combat.

There is real commitment to scenic backdrops all through John Wick, especially emphasising the dynamic lighting setups in virtually every set piece.

If the Marquis is God in Chapter 4, then Caine is often framed as a reluctant angel of sorts, fulfilling his obligations to take down Wick yet occasionally bending the rules to help him where he can. It is only fitting then that the Basilica of Sacré Coeur de Montmartre offers a heavenly location for the final showdown, and that Wick must first fight his way out of the underworld and up several flights of stairs to reach it. The imagery Stahelski brings to this painstaking endeavour goes beyond Christian theology, and continues to take on the hopelessness of Sisyphus’ eternal, uphill struggle from Ancient Greek mythology. Stahelski is more than just a crafter of visceral action sequences, proving himself in astounding sequences like these to be a storyteller firmly in touch with formal structure and symbolism.

Inspired symbolism blends with brilliant action in this Sisyphean struggle up the stairs towards the Sacré Coeur, ascending from the underworld towards the heavens.

Given the modern trends of franchise filmmaking tending towards a decrease in quality with each new sequel, it is unusual and exciting to see a series like John Wick invert that and end on such a cinematic high. Stahelski has a talented team behind him, with the most notable of all being Guillermo del Toro’s frequent cinematographer Dan Laustsen, but at this point there is no doubting his credentials as an auteur who is fully engaged with refining his artistic voice and talent. With its staggering set pieces and consequential narrative stakes, John Wick: Chapter 4 is simultaneously a model of franchise filmmaking at its most effective, and a confirmation of Stahelski’s well-earned position among our great modern action directors.

John Wick: Chapter 4 is currently in theatres.

Knock at the Cabin (2023)

M. Night Shyamalan | 1hr 40min

At their weakest, M. Night Shyamalan’s high-concept thrillers fall prey to uneven, contrived plotting before whimpering out with underwhelming twists. Maybe then it is his decision to remain relatively faithful in adapting Paul Tremblay’s novel The Cabin at the End of the World which makes his most recent psychological horror such an engrossing moral dilemma of apocalyptic proportions. There is a translation that takes place from page to screen here which effectively keeps this single location from growing too inert in its staging, making Knock at the Cabin feel both arrestingly claustrophobic and dauntingly cosmic in its stakes. As a result, this home invasion story also feels entirely fresh in its setup, taking us right to the edge of Armageddon without leaving its surrounding rural forest.

The arrival of four mysterious strangers at the isolated holiday cabin where Eric, Andrew, and their daughter Wen are staying brings with it the ultimate ‘trolley problem’ – to avert the end of the world, one of them must kill another as a willing sacrifice. If they refuse, their small family will be the only ones left alive as the sole survivors. Each time they say no, another plague will be unleashed across the Earth, and though it quickly becomes evident to us that this is not a hoax, these young fathers remain wilfully obstinate.

As both slowly crack under pressure, Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge do well to carry the emotional drama of this predicament, poignantly considering the implications it holds for their futures. Even greater still are the performances delivered by the four visitors, each being strangers reluctantly bound together by visions of the future. Rupert Grint is volatile as the gruff ex-convict Redmond, while Abby Quinn and Nikki Amuka-Bird offset his malice in the much kinder roles of Adriane and Sabrina. Dave Bautista quite easily steals the spotlight as the gentle giant Leonard though, leading the crew with pained obligation. At times, that doleful acceptance of his own God-given duty is even more compelling than the central dilemma itself, as in his character we see the inevitable endpoint of both Eric and Andrew’s journeys. If they are men gradually learning to accept responsibility, Leonard is a man who has already been there and shouldered that burden.

Within Shyamalan’s tight framing and low angles, Bautista’s large stature often fills entire shots, bringing an imposing physical presence to his monologues that wistfully consider their destiny and onus as a collective group. In shallow focus close-ups too, he and his co-stars talk right down the lens of the camera, and Shyamalan relishes the opportunity here to push his style in uneasy directions as his canted angles start tilting their faces off-centre. The consistency of this aesthetic is admirable, turning what could have been flatly staged conversations into riveting confrontations, evidently inspired by Jonathan Demme’s intimate direction of the anxiety-inducing meeting between Clarice and Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs.

When the camera moves out into wider shots, the remote cabin proves to be a marvellously atmospheric set piece too with its giant bookcase and wooden interiors. There is taut tension here built into Shyamalan’s Hitchcockian camera movements and visual blocking alike, using the entire widescreen canvas to play out the nerve-wracking dynamics between victims and captors.

Quite simply, this is easily some of Shyamalan’s best direction, pulling together these elements into a singularly focused tension that rarely slips. Even here though, it is not without flaws. Flashbacks to Eric and Andrew’s past bring little besides additional character information that could have been more succinctly woven into the present-day plotline, and there is still the odd passage of needless exposition present that compromises the narrative momentum.

Still, this makes for a captivating 100 minutes of horror storytelling, getting under our skin with existential threats posed in Bautista’s calm, gentle manner. Between Eric and Andrew, we see two sides of humanity – one that submits to mistrustful cynicism, and a more selfless recognition of the pain that such wilful disbelief may inflict on others. Like so many of Shyamalan’s films, it is an expression of spiritual faith, accepting a greater purpose that is as equally mortifying as it is essential to human existence. By wrapping this up in such a sharply composed style, Knock at the Cabin lets us feel both the wondrous significance and disturbing fragility of human life on a grand, existential scale.

Knock at the Cabin is currently playing in theatres.

Copenhagen Cowboy (2023)

Nicolas Winding Refn | 6 episodes (47 – 56 minutes)

Nicolas Winding Refn’s enigmatic odyssey through Copenhagen’s criminal underworld of sex traffickers, drug lords, and vampires is not the sort of Netflix series that flies by with propulsive momentum. It demands patience, a stomach for the grotesque, and a certain willingness to fall under its violent, neon-soaked trance, effectively playing to the same niche portion of viewers who could abide the icy detachment of Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon. Copenhagen Cowboy feels much more epic in scope than either of those films though, marking Refn’s second foray into television following 2019’s Too Old to Die Young, and his first in his native Danish language since 2005’s Pusher 3. Elements of the supernatural have certainly crept into his slow-burn thrillers before, but by centring the mysteriously superpowered Miu in his nocturnal vision of Denmark’s capital city, this Gothic neo-noir western effectively marks his most surreal venture into the paranormal yet.

The full extent of Miu’s skillset only really comes through gradual revelations though. Of this six-episode series, episode 1 may be the weakest overall, taking its time to set her up as a ‘lucky charm’ hired out by wealthy clientele. The first person we meet seeking this good fortune is Rosella, the middle-aged matriarch of a peculiar crime family, who wishes to fall pregnant with Miu’s assistance. At a house party, the androgynous young woman is passed around, stroked, and has snippets of her hair cut off by guests, effectively being objectified in a similar manner as the undocumented immigrants being pimped out from Rosella’s basement. The escape of one of these women, Cimona, in the final minutes of this episode sets in motion one of the series’ main plot threads, which sends her into the murderous hands of the blond, baby-faced Nicklas.

Parts of the first episode feel reminiscent of The Neon Demon with scenes in neon-lit change rooms and beautiful, stoic women.
Miu’s first instance of payback ends episode 2 – a glorious, blazing set piece.

From here, Refn continues to develop Copenhagen Cowboy as a psychedelic battle between abusive patriarchal institutions and the women they exploit. In episode 2 we meet Mother Hulda, the owner of a Chinese restaurant who we later learn has had her daughter taken by local gangster Mr Chiang. Though Refn’s dialogue is impassive and his actors’ facial expressions are stoic to the point of being inhuman, the strongest connection between any two characters may be the one here between Hulda and Miu, who sets out on a mission to get her daughter back. Just as she can bless people, so too can she apparently bring bad luck to those who deserve it, and as a skilled martial artist and clairvoyant, she poses a threat formidable enough to take down one major villain in a ludicrously anticlimactic fight.

For all the slow pacing and long takes, Refn remains a very active editor, using long dissolves over Miu’s first direct interaction with Nicklas.

In essence, Miu is an avenging angel of sorts, even framed in one key shot preceding a significant showdown with a ring light around her head like a halo, and in another with eagle wings stretching out behind her. She keeps any strong emotions she might possess locked up under the blue tracksuit that she wears like armour, its stiff turtleneck reaching all the way up to her chin, and simply through her penetrating gaze she can bring Siberian gangsters crumbling to the floor, wracked with fear and regret.

“Why are you looking at me like that?”

“I’m just looking at you.”

Inspired framing of the eagle wings and halo behind Miu’s head, setting her up as an avenging angel.

With what feels like several seconds of pause between each line of dialogue, Refn tunes us into the constant, synthesised ambience that fills the silences, thrumming and reverberating to the distorted rhythms crafted by Cliff Martinez and his team of composers. As is often the case with his and Refn’s collaborations, their work is a perfect formal match, soaking us in the ambience of electronic drones and vibrant neon lights that illuminate virtually every shady establishment in Copenhagen. These vivid fluorescent hues are often shaped through practical light sources built into Refn’s sets and making for some striking visual clashes, with Mother Hulda’s Chinese restaurant of red lanterns precisely arranged along green and blue curtains being a standout. As we come to understand Miu’s transcendent nature in more detail via a dream sequence as well, it almost appears as though these lights are radiantly pouring off her own skin and clothing, bathing her in an otherworldly glow colour against an entirely black background.

For a television series, this is loaded with these dead gorgeous colour compositions, laying out these red lanterns in the Chinese restaurant.
Psychedelic dream sequences are everywhere, here emitting light from Miu’s body as her origins are revealed.
Like every Refn film since Drive, this is soaked in his characteristic neon lighting – dogged commitment to an aesthetic.

Refn’s introduction to episode 5 also uses these vibrant contrasts to set up its gang war conceit particularly well, as he horizontally splits the screen and tracks his camera in opposite directions to examine both sides of the conflict – the blue half arranged in a tableau depicting the Last Supper, and the red posing on motorcycles. It is in those moments where rich displays of mise-en-scene and glacial camera movements combine that we feel fully immersed in his eerie environments, whether we are pointedly inching forward on character close-ups or floating around the golden apartment office of Miu’s old associate, Miroslav. Easily the most formally robust choice here though are Refn’s camera pans, frequently positioning us as distant, passive observers of Denmark’s urban underbelly.

A superb opening to episode 5 which focuses on a gang war, with the split screen, camera pans, and conflicting colour palettes.
Manipulating the golden light in Miroslav’s apartment office to throw these shapes across the ceiling. The use of darkness and lamps is particularly reminiscent of Gordon Willis’ photography in The Godfather.

The other major motif weaved through Copenhagen Cowboy’s scenes of animalistic greed and brutality are the pigs. Rosella’s passive husband, Sven, barely utters a word besides the bestial snorts and squeals he emits when beaten by her brother, Andre. It is revealed in episode 3 that Mr Chiang disposes of bodies by having them fed to Mother Hulda’s swine. In a simple yet deft cut, Refn moves from this scene to Nicklas playing with his own pet pigs, which we also met in the series’ very first scene. These men are the lowest of humanity propping themselves up as the greatest through their wealth and influence, though in such direct comparisons Refn exposes them as creatures of thoughtless instinct, constantly seeking to fulfil their most base desires.

Refn’s world is unforgiving and twisted, and his pig motif is part of that, emphasising the worst of humanity as thoughtless animals.
Refn stages tableaux with stillness and absolute attention to detail, leaving his camera as the only moving part of the scene.

Of these three men, it is Nicklas who is the most purely bone-chilling as an antagonist, possessing vampiric qualities that drive his bloodlust and make an enemy out of Miu. It is often in his house where Refn detaches from his neon aesthetic and turns to brighter, natural light, even offering a pastel, floral wallpaper backdrop to a Norman Bates-like monologue. He keeps a coffin in his basement too, and though one might initially presume that he sleeps in it, beneath its lid lie darker secrets which rear their head in Copenhagen Cowboy’s last two episodes.

The camera zoom and floral wallpaper in this shot frames Nicklas as an eerie figure.

The forest set piece where Nicklas’ surprise finally emerges to face Miu makes for a mesmerisingly surreal finale, shedding a dreamy natural light over a field of mysterious, tracksuited allies and her own terrified face, now showing emotion for the very first time. As Refn winds the ending towards a pair of cliff-hangers though, it is hard to not feel like we are being cheated of a final punch, leaving us wishing that this series was its own self-contained project. Still, as far as television goes, Copenhagen Cowboy is an exceptional cinematic triumph, traversing the psychological terrain of its otherworldly protagonist with disquieting stoicism and formal intensity. If Refn has another season of ideas in him to continue building out this hallucinatory Danish underworld, then let it be done. There’s nothing else on TV quite like it.

Even Refn’s natural light looks otherworldly, shedding a purple hue over this finale.

Copenhagen Cowboy is currently streaming on Netflix.