The most apparent aspect of visual style in film noir is the conflict between light and dark. Only small areas of light are apparent through the constant darkness. This gives the scenes a depressing and oppressive feel to them. There is a constant feel of being imprisoned which perfectly compliments the narrative which surrounds the characters. .
"The characteristic film noir moods of claustrophobia, paranoia, despair and nihilism constitute a world view that is expressed not through the film's terse, elliptical dialogue, nor through their confusing, often insoluble plots, but ultimately through their remarkable style" (Janey Place and Lowell Peterson, 1974).
Film Noir literally means black film a term originally used by French film critics about American detective films made after the war. Noir used black and white film even though by the early 1940's it was possible to shoot in colour. The use of black and white was to give the films a more realistic feel to them as if they were more of a documentary or a news-reel; it also gave noir the grittiness associated with them. .
The darkness of Film Noir can be seen in the style of the films and most obviously in the lighting used. Noir lighting is "low-key" which means that the fill light which is used to diminish shadows is hardly used thus creating unnatural dark areas and giving the film an oppressive gloomy feel.
"The lighting design often shows distorted, outsized shadows, menacing and paranoiac in the mind of those sought or hunted. Oblique and vertical lines capture buildings, lamp posts and alleyways in similar distortion. The lighting of interiors shows the same scaled down pattern, but revealing entrapment over pursuit".
In the film Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944) we are introduced to the femme fatale Phyllis, as she slowly walks down the stairs in her house. The main male lead, Walter, is waiting for her in her lounge.