September 29, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: THE NEON DEMON

Starring Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Desmond Harrington, Alessandro Nivola. directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. (2016, 117 min).

Stephen King once famously equated Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining to a big, beautiful car with no engine. One can apply that same analogy to Nicolas Winding Refn's latest head-scratcher, The Neon Demon.

First and foremost, the film is visually stunning. I haven't seen such effective use of color and contrast since Dario Argento's Suspiria. And like that classic film, nearly every shot is practically a work of art, managing to find beauty even in its most perverse images. The music score by Cliff Martinez does as much to drive the film as the characters and dialogue, going a long way in creating the sinister tone Refn is striving for. The craftsmanship alone will make The Neon Demon worth checking out for some viewers.

But unlike Refn's best film, Drive, which provided substance even in its many quiet, introspective moments, The Neon Demon is narratively vapid and sort of pretentious (the director’s initials are arrogantly displayed throughout much of the opening credits). It plays like there’s something dark and revealing under the surface that we’re supposed to pull out, and even manages to instill periodic moments of dread. But ultimately, it's a series of tenuously connected vignettes which seem to be a checklist of scenes Refn thought would be cool to see, regardless of their importance to the story (a mountain lion in a motel room in the middle of L.A.?).

"I cut myself shaving."

There are plenty of the director’s trademarks: emotionally-oppressed characters, prolonged moments of silence (aside from the music), very little exposition and, of course, the usual moments of shocking violence & grotesquery (including cannibalism and necrophilia). But this time, the pieces don’t fit together too well and its deliberate pace eventually becomes an endurance test. The cast, led by Elle Fanning as a budding teen model everyone's dangerously envious of, is solid, but we’re led to believe some characters are a lot more important than they really are (a few disappear altogether).

Nicolas Winding Refn’s films are generally pretty polarizing and The Neon Demon is no exception. Fans of the director may love every minute of it; many others will throw their hands up in frustration and mourn the two hours of their life they won’t get back. While any movie capable of doing that can’t be entirely dismissed, this time I didn’t buy what Refn’s trying to sell.

FEATURETTES: "About the Neon Demon" (which runs just under two minutes and feature nothing beyond a few promotional soundbites); "Behind the Soundtrack of The Neon Demon"
Audio Commentary with Fanning and Refn


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