By James Hancock June 24th, 2016
I just had the pleasure of catching The Neon Demon at BAM Rose Cinemas with director Nicolas Winding Refn in attendance and I’m happy to report that the movie is every bit as stylish, beautiful and disturbing as I hoped it would be. That said, I think this movie will likely divide audiences on two fronts. For casual moviegoers who don’t have a taste for the rough stuff, I imagine many of them will find the more graphic parts of the film to be well beyond their comfort zone and could very well walk out. I’m not particularly worried about those people. The more legitimate grievance against the movie is that many viewers might find the ambiguity of the story to be less about the profundity of Refn’s vision and more about screenwriting that at times borders on narrative uncertainty. Refn admits that while shooting the film he rewrote large parts of the script after a particularly brilliant scene where Jena Malone was called upon to improvise in unexpected ways. For my part, I don’t care one bit about the film’s flaws. I go to the movies in order to have a heightened sense of experience and The Neon Demon 100% delivers on that level. For the nearly two hour running time Refn delivers an erotic, hyper-stylized nightmare experience about narcissism, beauty and the ruthless underbelly of an industry devoted to looking perfect. I was shocked. I was aroused. And on Refn’s behalf, I was relieved in that I feel in The Neon Demon he has a delivered a movie that should find a large enough audience to keep him in the business of making his wildly unpredictable body of work that I so thoroughly enjoy (Pusher Trilogy, Bronson, Valhalla Rising, Drive).
It is important to note that this film is not attack on the fashion industry. Refn went out of his way to tell the audience about how much he loves his periodic work in the world of fashion, in particular how extreme some of its forms of expression can be. The goal of this film was to make a horror movie about people who are born beautiful. The film presents a more extreme version of reality with a greater emphasis on the shortening lifespans of models’ careers and the cannibalistic nature of being obsessed with physical beauty. Beauty is never in short supply in The Neon Demon. Elle Fanning, Jenna Malone, Abbey Lee, Bella Heathcote & Christina Hendricks are all stunning in the film but representing wildly different forms of beauty whether they are blessed with natural features or are reconstructed from the ground up by surgeons. I should also point out that the photography by Natasha Braier and the music by Cliff Martinez are a feast for the senses. I loved getting the chance to hear Refn talk about the process of making the movie in particular working with Elle Fanning and supermodel Abbey Lee who know this world all too intimately. The only downside of the evening was during the Q&A when one Social Justice Warrior in the crowd decided to shine a light on how virtuous she believes herself to be by accusing Refn of being a racist because of the actresses he chose for the film. To my relief, the audience booed to her to such a degree that she and her friend quickly scurried out the back. I guess I was not the only person in the crowd who enjoyed the movie. I have to admit that about halfway through the film, I was beginning to worry that the film would fail to deliver on the shock value teased in the trailer. Without going into spoilers, I’ll simply say just be patient. This film is not for everyone, but if the trailer below looks like your kind of thing, I strongly urge you to find the time to see the movie when it opens later today. I will certainly be returning to have this unique experience for a second time.
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