THE NEON DEMON [2016]

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Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

Written by Nicolas Winding Refn (story), Mary Laws (screenplay), Polly Stenham (screenplay)

Starring: Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Karl Glusman, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Jena Malone


Expect the unexpected. This describes so many aspects of The Neon Demon, Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest (disaster?)piece.

It was always going to be interesting. Personally, I belong in what seems to be the rare group who preferred Only God Forgives over Drive. Now, Drive is great, don’t get me wrong, but the colours, the images of Only God Forgives… they are hard to peel your eyes away from. It feels like a form of hypnosis, much like when I watch 2001. Here though we have a film that is perhaps a happy medium between the two. This is still filled with changing, hypnotic neon colours and plenty of symbolism, but unlike Only God Forgives, the narrative is much less of a task to follow.

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Elle Fanning is perfectly cast as the innocent newcomer to the glamorous world of modelling, with her baby face, button nose and shy demeanour. The first shot we see of her is immediately engaging – Elle is lying on a couch, and there is blood everywhere. Is this how it begins?! It sets the tone for the movie, as almost everything that happens is beyond unpredictable.

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Apparently Refn wanted Fanning, and only her, and as soon as we see her amongst the other models we instantly see why. While it seems she is befriended by make-up artist Roberta at her first shoot, the seedy underworld of modelling is quickly pressed onto Elle as she is taken to a party by Roberta, where she meets two other, established models. One of these other models casually asks, after a very frank conversation about plastic surgery, “who are you fucking? Isn’t that what we are all thinking? This girl is beautiful, she is new in town and is turning heads. That’s what we want to know, right? Who is she fucking, and will she climb the ladder higher than me?”

That scene sets the tone, as the hotel where Elle is staying is just as trashy as the underworld of modelling, with owner Keanu Reeves nailing the creepy uncle angle, who at one point lets Elle’s photographer boyfriend know that there is a room that he should check out.

“Some reeeal Lolita shit,” is what he says. We can only imagine what could be in that room, Refn again allowing our imagination to fill in the gaps. I must emphasise that Reeves is great here – it seems John Wick has revived his career.

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The film certainly doesn’t take long to establish the world we’re diving into, and it is soon established that Elle Fanning is the prey in this film, as she arrives to her motel after a shoot only to find a panther (or jaguar?) in her room. The owner of the hotel tells her she that is paying the bills for the mess caused, and his disturbing attitude surely sees Elle as fresh meat himself.

Despite these disturbing occurrences, Elle lands a gig with a major agency, and it is time to pose for a real photographer. Again it feels as if she is the prey as the photographer asks her to strip down to nothing at all to achieve what he wants. Suddenly the lights go out, the screen goes black, as Refn dares us to guess, teases us with what could possibly happen next. It’s brilliant and he uses this device several times throughout the film.

Upon making it into a major modelling show, Elle undertakes a transformation of sorts. As we see her confidence rise (in a very visually confronting and symbolic way), it is clear that her success has changed her. Her boyfriend remarks that he doesn’t recognise her, and with a full face of make-up and revealing clothing, his reaction is far from surprising.

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Unsurprisingly, the film’s tone darkens further as the movie progresses, with an extremely confronting final act, including the climax, and that ending.

There are so many ways to look at this I could write an essay about it, as the film is filled with symbolism and different ways to dissect the film. All the other women in the film apart from Elle look appropriately soulless, adding more to the tense, creepy atmosphere. In fact, the men in the film possess more of a soul, even if it is decrepit and dirty.

Refn’s hiring of two female playwrights was perfect, as he was intent on making this film from a female perspective – the last thing he wanted was a male’s perception of the industry. This decision, along with casting Elle Fanning, is perfect as the two writers add a definite feminine perspective to the film, which contrasts nicely against the machismo world of his last few flicks.

Like one of those dice from RPG board-games, this film has so many sides it can almost be overwhelming. And I assume it is for some people – Refn rarely makes films for everyone. But having watched it three times now, I’ve formed my own theories and enjoy talking about it with others who have their own interpretations.

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It is that sort of movie, one person could see it as a simple horror/thriller about a young model in the industry, while another person might see supernaturalsix beer(1) and/or spiritual themes within. This incredible variety is paired with incredible visuals and colours (thanks to another female, DOP Natasha Braier) and a constant, throbbing score by Cliff Martinez. It all culminates into a film that is unlike any other. Of course there are similarities to Refn’s earlier films, but this is his best and most diverse work yet. I can’t wait for the next one, as this is one of those flicks that I simply cannot stop thinking about, weeks after having seen it.

This one is worth a full sixer, and it will take a lot to take this from the #1 spot for my favourite film of the year.

6/6

34 Comments on “THE NEON DEMON [2016]

  1. Great to see your love for this movie — this was a really memorable experience. I much preferred it over Only God Forgives but I must say I gotta go back and watch that rig again because so much of it went over my head like it pretty much did everyone and I think that’s why I liked The Neon Demon so much, because it offered a more identifiable plot I guess if you want to call it that, and it still employed all the crazy unique things that make Refn the director he is. He’s a visual artist, there’s no one like him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Totally agreed, so unique. And yeah like I said, I think this is a happy medium between Drive and Only God Forgives, still has the amazing visuals but the plot was more cohesive. And there are so many different ways to looks at it! I think the other models were witches and the ending was a ceremony, an offering of some sort. But that’s just me 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, a full score!! I gotta admit Jordan, this is the only film by Refn that I’m curious to see. As you know I’m not a Gosling fan so no interest in seeing Only God Forgives nor Drive. Hopefully I like this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are a few scenes that may make you squirm but IMO it is well worth the watch. There is just sooooo much happening, and god this guy is almost like the next Kubrick, such amazing direction, colours, music…. it all just fits together so well.

      Give it a try!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Very unusual movie and beautiful to look at. If fell a little flat for me, but the performances are definitely worth mentioning!! Glad you liked it! I wish I’d liked it a little more :\

    Liked by 1 person

    • This movie just sucked me in instantly. I was hooked! Maybe give it a second viewing, I’ve seen it three times now and I’ve loved it even more on each viewing.

      Liked by 1 person

    • All the girls were amazing here… I love that Refn hired not only two female playwrights but also a female DOP. Gives this movie the look and feel that it really needed. God I could watch this over and over, its become my new 2001.

      And it is yet another film that you put on my radar 🙂

      Like

  4. The best film of the year? High praise, man. I’ve yet to see it but it’s been at the top of list for a while now. Like you, I also enjoyed Only God Forgives. I reckon that’s been very harshly maligned and Drive just speaks for itself, really. I’m hoping for more of the same here. Refn is definitely an interesting director and it’s great to heed Reeves delivers the goods. I’ve said it for ages but I think Reeves is far more suited to playing darker characters. That’s were his strengths lie.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you about Reeves. That’s why he shines as John Wick, or in this movie, a reeeally creepy dude.

      This is a happy medium man. It has the hypnotic colours and direction of OGF, but it has a more cohesive plot. One that can be interpreted in many different ways!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Cool – this is quite the visceral experience, isn’t it? I think they got the look of the film spot on. It has all the brightness and cool design you’d expect from the fashion industry but also this kind of horror colour palette too. I didn’t actually like Only God Forgives but at least it’s interesting…he’s pushing to get a reaction from viewers one way or another, and I think The Neon Demon is the same. Some people absolutely despise it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • visceral… yes that is the perfect word for it mate! I can understand people hating this , its not for everyone. But it blew me away, and it is interesting what you say about the colours…. I think Suspiria may have been a big influence!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Nice review Jordan. Although I was a big fan of Refn’s Drive, I thought Only God Forgives was a disaster and as a result I’ve been avoiding Night Demon. But I do love Kubrickian thrillers so maybe I’ll come around.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kubrick is the guy I keep coming back to. No other director was able to match direction, colours and sound so perfectly. But this guy does, with this movie everything seems in the perfect place. The music pulses with the right rhythm, the right urgency…. Ahh damn man, I bloody loved this! Would love to hear your thoughts man

      Liked by 1 person

  7. So glad you liked this man. Even more than me, I think. And I absolutely love how confronting it gets in the final act, it’s like Refn is daring you to stop watching. It’s bold and daring cinema in the best way and sooo gorgeous to look at at. Definitely one of my favorites of the year as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yes! That is a great way to describe the final act. So many scenes are like that, almost daring you to press stop. I can’t get enough, I’ll likely watch it again soon. I thought I loved High-Rise but this, this is the best of the decade for me I think

      Liked by 1 person

    • Its unlike anything from this year… or the last…. or the one before. Simply amazing. Some people will hate it, “Refn has gone too arty” blah blah, but honestly this is one of the most riveting films I have ever seen, ever.

      Like

  8. I saw a trailer for this in the theatre just before I had my baby and I was intrigued. Will probably be a while before I actually get to see it now as cinema trips are pretty much an impossibility at the moment but I am still very much intrigued.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Its online i think. Its on blu-ray at the very least. I’d give it a try, even if you don’t love it, it is a cinematic experience that is worth your time

      Like

    • I love the title too. The visuals of this film just have to be seen. The film has flaws no doubt, but it is such an incredible experience that I don’t give a crap about minor flaws! Even Keanu is good

      Like

  9. Pingback: TOP TEN FILMS OF 2016 | epileptic moondancer

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