Only God Forgives, which reteams Ryan Gosling with director Nicolas Winding Refn, isn’t a quasi-real-world thriller like Drive (2011), their first collaboration. It’s a solemnly preposterous piece of designer revenge pulp, with actors who stand around bathed in red and blue light like David Lynch mannequins in between scenes of torture and murder. One character is a retired Thai police officer named Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm, who manages to scowl and look amused at the same time). He slashes people’s limbs off with a samurai sword, then retreats to a karaoke nightclub, where he faces an inert audience as he sings lonely songs of lost love. How crazy-cool!
Only God Forgives doesn’t have a script so much as a body count. Its characters, even the one played by Gosling (his name is Julian), don’t pretend to be more than one-note abstractions. Julian’s brother kills a teenage prostitute, and is then murdered for the crime, at which point his dragon-lady mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), shows up. The seedy, neon-lit Bangkok streets are depicted as a place of depravity and no mercy but also martinet control, in which Chang must restore order by taking vengeance on Crystal’s war of vengeance. What this means is lots of overripe maiming and execution, all accompanied by satanic synth-pop. Only God Forgives is really just a lurid horror film dressed up in nonsensical swank. (Also available on VOD) C-