Friday, July 8, 2016
The Neon Demon
Oh, what's this? A review on a recent and relevant film? Could it be?
Yesterday I decided to go watch the new Nicolas Winding Refn movie, The Neon Demon (this is the same mastermind that brought you the neon neo-noir masterpiece, Drive). Needless to say, I adored it. Now, I should start by mentioning that this is not a movie for everyone. In fact, most audiences will probably loathe it. It's gritty, gory, and absolutely outrageous.There are scenes involving necrophilia, cannibalism, and extreme violence. It makes you feel uncomfortable, leaves you absolutely stunned, and you're briefly left wondering what it is you just watched. Unlike Drive, which had genuine mass appeal, there's a reason The Neon Demon doesn't have showings all over town. However, that being said, I found all of it surprisingly tasteful. A proper art-house flick that's wrapped in a beautiful and luxurious sensory overload for your eyes.
The plot should seem quite easy to follow, a doe-eyed runaway teenager comes to LA with dreams of becoming a model. Kind of like how he did with Drive, Refn leaves us wondering about the main character, not telling us anything about where she came from or what her previous life was like. Along the way she encounters a catty group of older models who will stop at nothing to get to her rising level of success. I really hate spoiling films or over-explaining them, so this is all I'm saying.
I do want to point out that being such an out-of-the-box movie, it's extremely open to interpretation. I was looking at some reviews prior to watching it, and everyone described Jesse (the lead, played by Elle Fanning) as coming across as extremely innocent when we first see her. After watching the movie, I really didn't find that to be the case. Right off the bat she says some pretty unsettling things, I would even say that early on she comes across as extremely narcissistic (which I suppose one can also chalk up to being really young and inexperienced). Honestly, I was okay with that. I liked that she was a character that I couldn't decide whether or not I hated. I wouldn't say I liked her, something about her made her very offputting. At the same time though, in a weird way you're rooting for her too. I always love films like this since you're left analyzing them later, and torn with your emotions.
Refn is such a genius in my opinion, and the symbolism and motifs littered throughout are a delight to dwell upon after. There's a scene in the movie which I guess you could look at as Jesse's full "transformation" where she sheds whatever childlike qualities she has left. She's in a prestigious fashion show and just before she walks, Refn cuts to an entirely different angle; we're now watching the show from Jesse's perspective. Nowhere do you see her walking down a runway, but instead she's facing two other versions of herself in a triangle, kissing her reflection. The triangle is a constant symbol in the movie, and reading into that one could say that it's a symbol of power.
Along with the symbolism, the movie is just gorgeous. It truly feels like you're watching a piece of art.The long, panning camera shots, the dark and neon landscapes, even the dull daytime shots all contribute to this nasty and cold world. The colour palette is a constant red and blue with a couple of scenes including strobe lights that leave you feeling like you're in a trance. Next to the cinematography you're looking at also probably the best score in a movie heard in a while. Cliff Martinez totally kills it, making the whole package come together.
I also think its worthwhile to note the very cool homages Refn makes. The camera pans slowly like it would in The Shining, while the colour palette, art-house vibes, and female cast are a direct comparison to Argento's '70s horror masterpiece, Suspiria. Some have even drawn similarities to Lynch's Mulholland Drive, and all of this rings true. It's a movie for the intellectual movie buff.
I thought The Neon Demon was phenomenal. The whole thing is a raw and disturbing metaphor about our constant pursuit of beauty (as stated in the film, "beauty is not everything, it's the only thing") and the violent depths we'll go to achieve it, either through terrorizing others or ourselves. And even that explanation? That's just scratching at the surface of an absolutely hypnotic and provocative film.
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