Movie Review: THE NEON DEMON (Denmark/France/USA 2016) ***

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the_neon_demon.jpgTHE NEON DEMON (Denmark/France/USA 2016) ***
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

Starring: Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves

Review by Gilbert Seah

The much anticipated film at Cannes that caused quite the sensation, Nicolas Winding Refn’s THE NEON DEMON will not disappoint in terms of gore and surrealism. Refn has already proven himself a director to watch, with remarkable features like his PUSHER trilogy, DRIVE and ONLY GOD FORGIVES.

While his earlier 5 films displayed speed and ultra-violence, THE NEON DEMON reveals a different side of Refn. THE NEON DEMON is an extremely slower paced film, full of pauses that allow the audience to sit back and figure what is actually going on. And most of the time, it is still hard to figure out what is going on.

But one must hand it to Refn that as slow paced as this film is – it is far from boring. The film for one, is meticulously shot with glittery lighting that mesmerizes as much as confuses. His images of the characters often blend one into another, like the corpse that looks like the heroine in the film, for the purpose of the lady making love to it imagining the corpse to be the girl she did not succeed in sleeping with.
The film shows Refn’s interpretation of the pretentious L.A. fashion industry. A young and aspiring model called Jesse (Elle Fanning) has just moved to Los Angeles. She is an orphan, very beautiful and impresses everyone she meets with her beauty. She meets make up artist Ruby and two of her rather nasty model friends Sarah and Gigi at a surrealistic dimly lit party. The rest of the plot is immaterial except to show that models will do everything to stay ahead.

Refn’s films seldom contain pleasant characters. There are none in THE NEON DEMON. Who initially appears a kindly soul, Ruby turns out to be another mean person with the ulterior motive of using Jesse for sexual satisfaction. And when Ruby cannot get what she wants, she turns incredibly vicious. Refn does to shy away from gore and violence. Where there is insufficient of these in the story, he more than makes it up in the dream sequences. Jesse has a nightmare of her motel manager (Keanu Reeves in nasty mode) inserting a knife down her throat only to be awakened by him banging at her door wanting to rape her. This unpleasant character is not crucial to the story of Jesse, but is there just for added unpleasantness. But the prized unpleasant segment is the one with necrophilia on full display.

Ref does not seem to care what audiences think of his work. With that attitude, Refn can come up with a few mighty fine films – the best of these being his PUSHER trilogy, which are all cutting edge, exciting and relevant. THE NEON DEMON is his most surreal film, reality turning into a nightmare with models morphing into flesh eating vampires in a world lit by neon and fluorescent lights where the sun seldom shines. Needless to say, THE NEON DEMON is not a film for everyone, but it is not without its merits, strange as they may come.



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