Daily Archives: February 2, 2020

The Neon Demon (2016)

*. To borrow some useful language from Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide: “BOMB. Lowest rating.”
*. I guess it took a village to make a movie this bad. Get a load of that line-up of pre-credit corporate logos. Broadgreen Pictures. Amazon Studios. Gaumont. Wild Bunch. Bold Films. Space Rocket. Nicolas Winding Refn (or NWR).
*. For some reason Neon Demon was a movie that divided critics, beginning with the boos and cheers it was met with at Cannes. I’m honestly at a loss here as to what anyone cheering found of value in it. It’s a movie just as awful as Showgirls, which it recalls, but with thick layers of dullness replacing that film’s campy humour. It is clichéd in every way imaginable. As for a message, you mean pure young maidens go to L.A. and are eaten alive by the scene? Modeling is a cruel business filled with beautiful mean girls? I’m shocked.
*. For what it’s worth, on the commentary Refn says “a lot of the movie is like a ceremonial celebration of narcissism.” So models are narcissists too. More news to me. But does Refn mean “celebration” ironically? Is this film a critique of narcissism? Does it matter? Certainly not to any narcissists, on screen or in the audience.
*. At the halfway point there’s a scene where we apparently go through the looking-glass and Jess transforms into the neon demon. Again, this is according to the commentary. I have to go off of what Refn and Elle Fanning (Jesse) say there because I didn’t get any sense of a transformation. Jess doesn’t have any more power, or more of anything, after this point. Fanning says she’s turned into the mountain lion, but she’s still living in that shitty motel and she even dies a virgin sacrifice. I suppose you could say that she’s become more narcissistic, but kissing herself in the mirror only completes a very short arc.

*. Given that it’s a movie with nothing at all to say it has very little script, disposing of dialogue more or less completely in its final act. Since the dialogue we get in the rest of the film is terrible this is no great loss, though I found the silence (or techno score) only added to the boredom. I can’t think of another movie I’ve seen recently that had less hold on my attention. What was I supposed to be caring about here?
*. I’ve mentioned how the commentary track is of some assistance in understanding what Refn was trying to do. This isn’t because it’s a particularly good commentary — it’s not, with Refn and Fanning joking on a couple of occasions about how they’re “just talking” — but because what was Refn was trying to do remains so obscure. He insists, for example, that the film is a comedy and meant to be laughed at. I sort of got how it might be satirical, but there was little if anything funny going on. Perhaps, like his comments about a celebration of narcissism, this was “just talking” too. Another example: “art is very indulgent. The more indulgent it is the more interesting it becomes.” I have no idea what this means.
*. Refn does offer an explanation of the otherwise mystifying character of Jesse’s boyfriend Dean (Karl Glusman). I found Dean’s presence pointless: just another clichéd figure in a cast full of clichés. Refn, however, refers to him as “the hypocritical [sic] of normality.” Which I think means that there is no state of innocence we fall from but that morality is only ever a pretence. This might actually have been an interesting idea to develop, but Dean (who seems plenty creepy enough directing the photoshoot at the beginning) makes a quick, unexplained exit from the film so we don’t see where Refn might have been going.

*. Speaking of early exits, perhaps the only interesting thing about The Neon Demon is the way it disposes of both its main characters before the end of the film, which thus takes the form of an extended coda. I’d call it anticlimactic, but I’m not sure what the climax of the movie was supposed to be. In any event, it suggests Refn didn’t find Jesse and Ruby very interesting either.
*. As with Showgirls you spend a lot of time waiting for the violent climax to arrive, and when it does I suppose it’s weird enough. Jena Malone’s Ruby, it seems, has a bit of Elizabeth Báthory about her. The mean models are perhaps too sensitive yet. It’s a measure of how much I disliked the movie though that I didn’t find myself getting very excited about any of the surreal gore. It just seemed like more cosmetics.
*. I don’t want to be totally negative so I’ll end with this: I liked Keanu Reeves. He plays the scummy motel manager (meaning he’s scummy and so is the motel), and at first I didn’t even recognize him. Not because he looks any different than he usually does, but just because by the time he appears I wasn’t paying much attention. But good for him. I also liked him in John Wick: Chapter 2, which came out the next year. Could it be that he’s growing on me? Or is he getting better?