Rated: R (for disturbing violent content, bloody images, graphic nudity, a scene of aberrant sexuality and language)
Directed by: Nicholas Winding Refn
Starring: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Karl Glusman, Christina Hendricks and Keanu Reeves.
“I don’t want to be like them. They want to be like me.”
In 2013, Director Nicholas Winding Refn decided to abandon a basic linear narrative to accomplish a more artful, thought provoking visually film. His idea was to continue the visual language of his film “Drive” but, in his words, “…set in a heightened reality…”. The film in question is “Only God Forgives”, a stylized film revolving around a drug trafficker getting revenge against a Thaiwanese gangster for killing his older brother. The film was met with mixed to negative reviews, claiming that it was stylish but lacked substance. Personally speaking, I thought the film looked beautiful with it’s set pieces. What “Only God Forgives” lacked was character and pacing: I found myself getting quite bored during the entirety of the film due to no true narrative. The film was leading up to a fist fight between Ryan Gosling’s character and Vithaya Pansringarm’s character, but lacked the true energy to make the fight engaging. The reason I bring up “Only God Forgives” is that, for what the film lacks, it seems to have been put into “The Neon Demon”.
The Neon Demon follows Jesse (Elle Fanning), an aspiring model who looks to break into the model scene but finds that as her star begins to rise, so does the competition’s lust for her demise. The story is presented through visual imagery, as well as dialogue (which had been truly lacking in “Only God Forgives”). The story itself represents an unhinged look at celebrity and the Hollywood machine. What makes this person so celebrated? It felt like an undertone on religeon and how it feels like we bow down to theses public figures as thought they were Deities. Through themes of lust, cult and perversion, this film will leave your mouth wide-open by the end of it.
The acting in the film is superb, as it usually is for a Refn film. He seems to know how to choose his actors and prepare them for the journey that theses characters will go on. Elle Fanning is a great lead and I’m actually kind of surprised that she took this type of role. She delivers the confidence and fragility that this character needed, maybe one of her best roles. Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote play rivals to Jesse and do a great job at being just horrible human beings: from the tone they exhude to their body language, they scream “We are better than you.” Jena Malone and Keanu Reeves deliver great performances as well, with Reeves playing a character I never saw coming from him. The only actor who didn’t seem to have anything to do was Christina Hendricks, who appears in 1-2 scenes. I would of liked to have seen more of her.
Visually speaking, the film is beautiful: from wide shots of Jesse dancing on the outskirts of L.A. to the Neon covered dancehall to the “Gold Angel” Photoshoot. The film’s cinematographer Natasha Braier did a fantastic job creating an atmosphere, as well as bringing you into the moment with slow camera push-out, bringing the scene to full effect.
Cliff Martinez returns for another collaboration with Refn and it’s everything you’d want from one of their collaboration. A very atributed feel back to the 80’s with an aggressive undertone. Julian Winding actually provides one of the main tracks for the film called “The Demon Dance”, which I have actually been listening to since writing this review and it’s a very moody and upbeat song. If you aren’t interested in the movies subject matter, you should definitely listen to it’s score.
“The Neon Demon” takes Refn idea for a stylized artful narrative and realizes to near it’s full potential. He may have not achieved it with “Only God Forgives” but it seems like he got it right the second time around. To me, this was a return to form for Refn and I cannot wait to revisit this film and to see his next.
The Neon Demon is currently available on VOD platforms and will be available on Blu-Ray and DVD on Sept 27, 2016.
*WARNING: The Following Trailer shows Explicit Material and Disturbing Imagery. You have been warned.