The Neon Demon, 2016
dir. Nicolas Winding Refn
Everybody’s talking about this film. About the viciousness of the characters, the controversial elements of necrophilia and cannibalism, and they’re all counting these as detriments to this film, as if it’s a bad thing that this film takes such chances and goes out of its way to be uncomfortable.
I loved this film.
I’m not entirely sure I understood it, but I really loved it. Every second of it, from the first frame to the very last, I had my eyes glued to the screen (except for a few moments when I got distracted by Keanu Reeves because I’d forgotten his character’s surname in Point Break — “Utah” in case you have the same problem.)
It really seems like this is one of those films that is and isn’t trying to make a point all at once. Is it about the futility of fashion industry? Is it about how badly treated young models are? About how precarious the girls’ positions in the industry are?
Is it about female friendship, about sticking to your pack and not letting anyone in your path? Or is it just a really beautiful-looking film about a girl trying to make it as a model.
In a Psycho-esque turn of events, the film shifts its main characters at the very end, and we’re not quite sure what to think of it. Are we happy she finally got her break or should we mourn Jessi’s chances? It’s also reminiscent of Mulholland Dr, the quasi-competitive relationship of friends who work in the same industry (so I’m happy NWR himself put Mulholland Dr. in his curated film season for Picturehouse.)
And, honestly, when it’s all said and done, the story of the film is just another part of it, that is equally as important as the visuals and the sounds. Refn and his cinematographer here, Natasha Braier, know how to crate and atmospheric experience that resonates until long after the credits have stopped rolling. The visuals are striking as always, and they knows how to play with darkness and light, and especially how to light the actors so that very little needs to be conveyed verbally. None of the dialogue here is actually important, all the most relevant bits of information are given to us by the visuals. Neon is very prominent in this film, obviously, but the whole look of it, the sets, the clothes, are very streamlines, very deliberate. It’s a film that’s been put together on purpose. If you know what I mean.
The score was probably my favourite part of this, however. (Apart from Elle Fanning’s performance, she’s unbelievable.) Refn teams up with Cliff Martinez yet again to create a score that is very 80s, much like Drive, and you feel it in your bones. The synth and bass lines go perfectly with the visuals, and there is a element of A Clockwork Orange that was pleasing and daunting all at once.
This will probably be the most divisive movie of the year, and with reason. It is controversial, it is gruesome, and it is absolutely fucked up. But it is also gorgeous, and powerful, and if it’s right for you, you’ll feel it in your soul.
review by Mariana Duarte