Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn has been working on a project sure to satisfy those looking for a place to enjoy the low-budget, forgotten movies from the past. Refn’s online streaming site, byNWR.com has finally been released and promises to bring back the obscure hidden gems that you can’t really get anywhere else. This site seems like a unique opportunity to check out for film fans like myself and assuming you haven’t checked it out I will tell you whether it’s worth giving it a chance.
Who is Nicolas Winding Refn?
First let’s look at the man behind the site, Refn. While admittedly I’m not all too familiar with the work of Refn, from what I’ve gathered Refn seems to be the caricature of a modern auteur filmmaker. To the same degree that Elon Musk is what you’d image when thinking of a “tech millionaire” Refn is that figure for the arthouse cinema. Refn seems to be a filmmaker bent on deconstruction of conventions and embracing taboo subjects all in a way that is “stylistically abrasive”. Whether in his bold cinematography using red lighting, shot composition etc. or shocking imagery it seems Refn is undeniable polarizing. Refn is nonetheless intentional in his understanding of the film media and using it to effectively create sensation-inducing content.
“It’s like pornography. I’m a pornographer. I make films about what arouses me. What I want to see. Very rarely to understand why I want to see it and I’ve learned not to become obsessed with that part of it.” – an actual quote from Refn
Refn’s most notable works would be his 2011 film Drive starring Ryan Gosling which had the critical success to put Refn on the track for future success. His 2013 follow up also starring Ryan Gosling Only God Forgives seemed to divide audience and cement Refn as more an auteur director for a niche audience. Also, most recently the 2016 film The Neon Demon was a visually stunning film but not much buzz in the mainstream.
Despite your personal biases towards Refn and his films you can appreciate his dedication to the art of cinema whether it be challenging or saving it. Refn has apparently had this hobby in which he restores old cult movies and has now decided to release these restored films on his own streaming service.
What is byNWR.com
So, to get more specific than the “Refn Cult movie streaming service” as Indie Wire and other movie sites are covering it as is sort of misleading. Instead of the typical “streaming service” such as Netflix or Hulu byNWR is more comparable to an online college film course on obscure cult movies. The interface of the website is visually neat, but atrocious in functionality. It’s manageable but navigating all of the contents of the site is somewhat tedious. It seems that the model of the site is quality over quantity as the surprising thing is that there’s only currently 3 films available to watch. Instead of being a library of films to choose from it’s instead releasing Volumes of content for film buffs or nerds or whatever you’d call your brand of film appreciation to be. This first volume is themed “Regional Renegades” and Volume 2 is teased to release next month with the theme of “Missing Links”. The current 3 films available are The Nest of the Cuckoo Birds (Which I review down below), Hot Thrills and Warm Chills, and Shanty Tramp.
I do like this model they’re going with I’ve been on Public Domain libraries of films and it’s hard to really distinguish which ones are the ones worth watching and I don’t think many people have much of an appetite for cult classic movies. Instead it feels like a personal recommendation from a distinguished filmmaker who’s looking to emphasize why he deeply appreciates each of these films. Each film comes with supplementary material and if you wanted to know every detail about a film nobody’s heard about I think they might have it for you. Nest of the Cuckoo Birds comes with about 10 supplementary sections and it can really enrich your understanding of film and filmmakers if you’re willing to take the time. The first is a biography on director Bert Williams and it’s an estimated 89 minute read about his life story. It also includes William’s painted art work as well as shorter reads on relating topics such as the films discovery and the process of restoring it.
You could spend an entire month with a volume if you really wanted to. Other notes about the website is as someone who often multitasks on my computer, the website doesn’t function in half screen tabs all too well. The websites player is surprising good, it can play at HD resolutions and was smooth throughout playing it. I think it does go back to the beginning if you refresh the page so maybe be aware of what time you’re going to take a break mid-way or something like that. It’s a free service, with no real catch it’s there if you’re interested and I’d say it doesn’t hurt to check it out.
The Nest of the Cuckoo Birds (1965)
The Nest of the Cuckoo Birds is the first film on the NWR streaming and the significance of it is sort of interesting. The Nest of the Cuckoo Birds is essentially a ghost film, brought back from the dead as another copy of the film was found in an abandoned theatre. The film was considered lost media as the negatives were thought to be burned and lost never to be seen again. Yet, here we are, Bert Williams horror thriller is back from the dead and its probably as unfathomable as ever.
In terms of whether I liked the movies, I’d go ahead and say that it’s kind of bad. The film is extremely low-budget, with laughable make-up effects and spotlight lighting design with the echo filled audio as the actors belt their lines in ham-fisted manners. It was not too long ago I watched the cult classic horror Spider Baby which was leagues ahead in production value being only released 2 years after. Besides it’s spotty at best production, the plot of it is rather strange. The story lacks major structure with just enough to set up the cheap thrills that ensue. The film operates in a way that intentionally keeps you in the dark, but it goes without explaining enough and foreshadows too little.
However, as poor of a film it is in terms of story and most production elements (you know those small nitpicks) it’s an effective horror flick. The score/theme for this film is repetitive and simplistic (simple drum beat gets faster as tension rises) but there’s something trance-like in it that it definitely adds character to the film.
Some of the props and makeup are fake looking (mainly referring to the Papier-mâché corpses) but again it does add an uncanny and perturbing nature to them. The cinematography and editing work well in tandem to create some disturbing scenes. The shot composition utilizes close-ups and long shots appropriately to focus on the character reactions or the environment when necessary. I know I’m gonna sound crazy but if you ever wondered what it would be like if a woman wearing a mask from The Strangers, while naked would look like trying to kill you while edited like the shower scene from Psycho ,while hearing a generic jumpscare screamer than this movie has a scene for you.
Overall, it’s not one I’d really recommend. While it has flashes of interesting filmmaking and is enjoyable in its flaws this is still too little to say in its favor. I couldn’t shake the feeling that Bert Williams was making sort of sleazy flick, so he could touch woman (OBJECTION! That’s Speculation…). Besides for it’s off the wall neurotic moments I don’t think it has much to offer and isn’t as fun or campy as Spider Baby or other horrors found in the public domain.
I don’t think I’m necessarily the target audience seeing I don’t consider myself a fan of Refn or have a deep connection with these cult classic films. I do think it’s a neat thing that I do plan on exploring some more. I’m undecided as to whether I will check out one of the other volume 1 films or wait for volume 2 flicks to come out. I do warn anyone that I believe I saw that this currently could be region specific website and might not be available everywhere yet so don’t get your hopes too high. Overall, it’s obscure films with bonus features included and that’s neat and I think it’s an interesting spot on the internet a film fan can go visit right now.