Sunday, July 24, 2016

THE NEON DEMON (2016)

Written by Mary Laws, Polly Stenham & Nicolas Winding Refn


Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. July 13, 2016 1:00 PM


"The Neon Demon" tells the familiar story of a small-town girl coming to Los Angeles in search of fame, fortune and success. But in the hands of the Danish film maker Nicolas Winding Refn, he has twisted this oft-told tale in to a colorfully deranged and strikingly seductive new drama. This sweet girl finds what she seeks in the world of fashion modeling, becoming a celebrated and aloof figure, before being literally devoured by the glittering jealous monsters of the city.

When we first see Jesse (Elle Fanning), she is motionless, looking model fierce in an evening gown. But her throat has been slashed with the blood draining from her body. This turns out to be nothing more than a photo shoot being taken by her new friend, Dean (Karl Glusman) to help her build her portfolio. While wiping away the fake blood, Jesse catches the eye of Ruby (Jena Malone), a make-up artist. She offers to show the aspiring model around town and introduce her to some fun people in the business.

Ruby takes Jesse to a fashion event where she meets two models, Sarah (Abbey Lee) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote). These beautiful women, reconstructed, hardened and volatile, are dismissive of this shy, natural young girl outfitted in shopping mall chic. Yet it's clear they sense that she's a potential threat.

And their intuition proves accurate. The head of a top modeling agency (Christina Hendricks) is unimpressed with her photos yet quickly decides to represent Jesse before sending her off to a creepy but notable photographer (Desmond Harrington) to get better pictures. While at a runway modeling casting for a famous designer (Alessandro Nivola), he becomes completely mesmerized by Jesse, hiring this new face and leaving the experienced Sarah out of the show. Distraught and humiliated, the model destroys her book and smashes the bathroom mirror. With the hope of offering comfort, Jesse enters the room but makes the situation worse. While leaving she slips, cutting herself on the broken glass and Sarah lunges, attempting to drink the blood coming from the younger girl's hand.

This strange moment is our first sign that this film is attempting social commentary through dark, macabre humor. It doesn't entirely work but "The Neon Demon" is a potent nightmare of our endless obsession and envious desire with youth and beauty. The dramatically luxurious camera work by Natasha Braier and the pulsating soundtrack by Cliff Martinez effectively creates an eerie, sensual vibe. Coming from a family of film makers who were inspired by the French New Wave, Refn was more attracted to American horror films. His early work reflected his taste for blood and violence but it was his 2008 film, "Bronson" which starred Tom Hardy as real-life British prisoner Charles Bronson where Refn first merged the cinematic modernism that his parents appreciated and his own lurid interests. This lead to the brutal, neo-noir crime thriller, "Drive" which brought the director plenty of critical acclaim, award recognition and the Best Director prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

Ms Fanning is a perfect combination of innocence and desperation until Jesse becomes fully aware of her beauty, then without apology, embracing it's power and usefulness. Keanu Reeves makes a brief, uncharacteristic appearance as the churlish manager of the rundown hotel where Jesse lives. After the frightened girl runs to him because of an intruder in her room, they discover that a mountain lion has entered with the manager unsympathetically expecting her to pay for the damages. The big cat is one of several weird, head-scratching moments that occurs throughout the film, including the final scene at a photo shoot involving Sarah and Gigi that manages to be both hysterically funny and uncomfortably disturbing.

Light on reflective meaning and heavy with rich visual imagery, "The Neon Demon" is an electrifying and terrifying horror fantasia, filling the screen with brightly colored gore and mayhem with a touch of sick yet hilarious humor. We are taken on a turbulent ride through a perverse world that artfully stimulates our senses, leaving us titillated, disgusted, confused, and intrigued.