AMAZON STUDIOS (2016)

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

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

The Neon Demon. Where to start...? Actually I’m not sure, which is kind of how the film is. It managed to keep me captivated whilst simultaneously keeping me bored (try and work that out)

 

The opening twenty minutes or so set the direction for what should be an enthralling story – the macabre photo shoot, the mystery of Ruby, the bitchiness of the models, the trippiness of the bondage show – all set in dark lighting, strobe or neon lighting (even the dressing room had a grim lighting) but the movie meandered on after this, taking no real twists or risks – hiding behind very artsy and colourful cinematography and scenes (the Refn effect). That doesn’t make it a bad movie, just a conundrum.

The visuals throughout are beautiful – Refn has clearly spent as much effort as possible on every shot, as all are framed, coloured and lit perfectly. The hypnotic strobe shots assault the senses, as well as the neon triangles that appear to Jesse, and the contrasting lit show that Jesse headlines – there’s nothing bad to look at here. The grime of the motel is captured wonderfully, it just looks dirty – the girl with all the dreams and glitzy lifestyle living in a dingy hole. The shadow of Argento looms large here.

 

Elle Fanning has an innocent air of mystery to her character and portrays it very well. Beginning as a naive newcomer and transcending into a narcissistic output of her industry, she plays the arc well with a quiet dignity and arrogance. Heathcote and Lee are great as the fashionista robots, and give the right amount of bitchiness the story required. Jena Malone prowled through her scenes with a silent menace and was fantastic, with Keanu Reeves giving us a convincingly creepy motel manager.  The performances were good throughout, no complaints there.

 

The main issues with the movie are the strange narrative, stories being spliced with overlong strobe lit scenes which disrupted the flow of the movie for me or random plot points (the ‘intruder’ in the motel room was just odd). Also the unsubtle nods – the foreshadowing bathroom scene at the beginning, the presaging bathroom scene in the middle, creepy Keanu was set up to do something eventually – could be seen from a mile away. By the time the bizarre third act had hit me, the impact it should have delivered had been muted by the pacing and story that came before.

 

The third act takes on a strange horror theme, but in a Refn sense of the genre. From taking actions that should be terrifying and visceral, Refn twists them into seductive shots and comedic moments – maybe highlighting the absurdity of the events, and also the mutated view on the fashion industry he is presenting. There’s just no pay off, just continuation. The movies main WTF moment happens in a mortuary, and marks a drastic twist in one characters personality – but it does seem strangely shoe horned in for greater shock effect.

 

The Neon Demon is a strange movie. For all of the above flaws, it still retains a hypnotic effect that stays with you after the movie – which to me is a sign of success. It’s not a bad film by any means, just a very slow burning film, which doesn’t have the conclusion it needed. Refn’s twisted messages on the fashion industry – the bitter made-up robots, the threatening attitudes of the photographers, the conform-or-be-swallowed attitudes (literally) – are often exaggerated for effect, but the message that beauty is everything is a motto I imagine is prevalent in the industry. Beauty is certainly prevalent throughout the movie, there’s just a lack of a convincing punch to extinguish the slow burning pace of the movie.

 

Overall, this is a riddle – a movie that had little but lots going for it, patience testing yet memorable. The Neon Demon is recommended for the strange experience you will encounter – believe the hype...sort of.

October 29th 2016

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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