Monday, June 27, 2016

[Review] The Neon Demon

In 2011, the consistently divisive Nicolas Winding Refn struck critical and commercial gold with the thrillingly cool Ryan Gosling vehicle, Drive. He followed that up with the lackluster Only God Forgives (some people still vouched for it, but I found it to be too sloggy for its own good). Now comes The Neon Demon, which falls somewhere in between.

In the LA-set film, wild cats--whether it's a roaming mountain lion or a taxidermied leopard--appear as a peripheral motif. Predators lurk. Everywhere. Jesse (Elle Fanning), a shy and naive 16-year-old posing as 19 has recently moved into town and landed a couple of modeling gigs. As she gets deeper and deeper, things get weirder and weirder, and bloodier and bloodier.

Dark and fascinating, each scene early on plays like a searing exhibition of the cutthroat nature of the supermodel industry, navigating the levels of Hollywood, and "making money off pretty". Characters soullessly deliver provocative dialogue with not-so-subtle subtext about superficial beauty, competition, perfection, aging, and appearance-altering procedures. Now, none of these are new or groundbreaking themes in the cinematic world, especially recently (Maps to the Stars, The Congress, and even Black Swan), but that doesn't make the experience any less potent.

The cast is terrific in this hyper-stylized environment. Elle Fanning glows as the main force. Notable supporters include: Keanu Reeves as a seedy motel manager. Jena Malone as a deceptive makeup artist. Desmond Harrington (Quinn from "Dexter") as an unconventional photographer. Alessandro Nivola as a cold-hearted fashion designer. The visuals are impeccably framed, and coated with bold purples and reds of, yes--neon. Cliff Martinez's throbbing, synth-heavy score really fits the aesthetic (cue the obligatory flashing strobe sequence). It's all quite fever-dreamy, but the narrative itself is surprisingly straightforward. Unfortunately, things unravel a bit toward the back half as the film delves into shock-horror territory. But it does take the phrase "You'll get eaten alive!" seriously.

Near the beginning, there's a striking visual where Jesse gazes out into the cityscape from atop a hill. It appears that the sky and the city have flipped places. One is filled with a concentration of lights and stars, and the other is pitch-black and hollow. It's an encompassing scene for The Neon Demon.

( 7/10 )


  1. I really want to see it. Big fan of Lee after seeing her in Fury Road last year

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