The Neon Demon (2016) Movie Review

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Neon Demon (2016)

The Neon Demon (2016)

Absolutely adored this flick. The cinematography is breathtaking. Even for Refn. The "show" in the club might be one of the best things I've ever seen set to film. Period.
I really enjoyed how this film was paced as well. The first half, we'll say to the runway scene, is paced like a fairly standard film.... but after that scene, the whole thing changed.
In the first half, there is actually some character development. It's shallow, just like the characters in the film, but it seems to be a very clear artistic choice. Excluding Ruby that is, but more on that later. The direction is very showy and gorgeous, and features lots of color to highlight undertones in the mood. Jessie is a bright eyed girl, she's not cocky but confident.

However, during the Runway scene, she seems to go into some sort of Trance. Perhaps it marks the point of the "dream" begining, or the point where it all becomes metaphorical.
See, after that scene, all of the characters become caricatures. I haven't been able to quite put my finger on it yet, but each character sort of becomes something rather than someone (hypothetical example: Ruby is Lust). Mid development, every character jumps to the hypothetical conclusion of what they will eventually become. To me, the ending is Refn's way of showing what happens to these characters as they progress in their career. But instead of choosing to make it occur over the standard life's period of time, he makes the jump happen immediately after the Runway scene in order to explore the hypotheticals of their choices.
Another thing that struck me after that scene was the stark shift in cinematography. After this scene, Refn begins to use much more natural lighting. He uses more deep space as well. The neon has faded, and so has the facade of the characters. They are in their "final form" so to speak, so consumed with own vanity and pride it leads them to... well you know the end.

I think this all ties back into the title. The Neon Demon. Well, let’s think about it for a bit. It's alluring. It's provocative. You hear ist and you say, "Oh?”. A Neon Demon, it glows, it shines, and it’s beautiful. It draws you in through the imagery. But still, the two words are very shallow. You know what to expect, despite the incredibly lush description. So in the beginning, we have gorgeous mediums stuffed with bright Neon, black, and white. The characters are semi realistic, the plot adheres to Hollywood structure, and it progresses at a reasonable pace. We'll call this the "Neon" half. This part is Refn waving his hands around, "Look at me fuckers, looks at this incredible direction". It's showy, and rightfully so. Its fucking gorgeous. It draws you in. Just like the modeling world draws women in, with its allure of beauty.

After the "half", we have long, deep, natural spaces. The pace hits mach five, the violence...yeah that happens, and the whole thing goes Mulholland Drive. We'll call this the "Demon" half. Just like the phrase "Neon Demon", after the word Neon the film skips straight to the Demon. There is no transition, it just happens in two very specific moments; The Neon ends at the Runway scene (as discussed above) and the Demon begins when the girl next door is Raped?/Murdered. There's is a very specific visual motif in this scene. Jessie hugs a circle of light as the camera pulls away. Knowing Refn, he has quite the fascination of Maternity and the Womb (OGF's most fucked up scene for starters). I believe that the circle of light is the womb, and also representative of Jessie's current reality before this scene. She is surrounded by light, but as the camera pulls out it reveals more and more blackness, the "Demon" consumes the frame and her as well.
I’m still working on a full analysis, but would love to hear what you all have to think about it. It’s quite refreshing how Refn juxtaposes Neon/Facade with Reality/Demons, yet the first half is clearly real and the second half is clearly fake/dream. The way he uses the cinematography to paint such beautiful allegory floored me.

He breaches plenty of postmodern looking-at-others-look-at-you, your value is based solely on being admired stuff, which is always relevant, and his visual gifts are enchanting and acid-like cold and crisp, but he needs collaborative input at the conceptual level, it seems. The whole story and setting scream Easy Target, and it's rather obvious where everything is headed from pretty early on. Perhaps the rampant obviousness was part of his point, approaching satire, giving him ample opportunity to hammer us with his mythology-based storytelling; his moves produce impacts but they never seem shocking or half-way original. The archetype breakdowns in Only God Forgives were much hazier and more effective for it. This is like the world's most obvious modern Kafka short story, stretched and strobed to the point of interpretive nausea. Clearly modeling is suspect, but are any participants exempt from the greed and envy and evil the enterprise can contain? If the appearance of innocence is the only truly innocent thing available anymore, what does he suggest as alternatives?
I also sort of see it as an anti-feminist film, either despite his intentions or because of them. Everyone's a wolf in flowing clothing here except our initial photographer, who is spared all critique despite his role in the world of trying to capture beauty -- though his penchant for critique by the slashed throat concept probably aligns him more with what Refn sees himself as, the horrified male observer. His aw-shucks earnestness and cool vintage car kind of bothered me this time, as steeped in shtick as everything else.
Perhaps he'll get to the point where he might offer some notions of healing or understanding in his portraits of human life. Not that Kubrick ever really did, he was too obsessed with investigating the animal, but Jodorowski sort of does in his way, and PT Anderson and Roy Andersson let a sort of heavy lightness through. True as they can feel, I think we have enough horror films and are numb to them now, so what real value does another heinous portrait hold?
I will definitely see it again, but am very sure it could have been better if his target was more off-centered; plus he won't lose anything through swifter edits and maybe allowing for improv and looseness, this thing felt way too tightly-gripped overall.

The Neon Demon (2016)

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