I have enjoyed most of the Nicolas Winding Refn films I've seen. I love
both Bronson and Drive. I tried to like Only God Forgives, but
couldn't. I came into The Neon Demon with neutral expectations. I
walked out of the end credits disgusted with myself for not having left
The Neon Demon is vapid, soulless trash. It is despicable drivel. It is irresponsible. It is made without a sense of accountability to taste or reason. It is a bafflingly inept attempt at surrealism, where caricatures are passed off as characters, and bright, pretty lights and colors as compelling imagery. The potentially interesting (if trite) theme of the moral and emotional emptiness of the modeling industry is presented in a laughably inane way, as if it were a fresh, vital artistic insight.
If Only God Forgives was nudging audience members in the ribs a bit too hard, The Neon Demon kicks us in the groin. Repeatedly.
This is true both in the film's style and content. I'm a firm believer that any subject can be dealt with in a film. There is a line of decency and human concern that is usually difficult to discern, and is obviously highly subjective. Shocking scenes will often polarize viewers, and, usually, there are legitimate points to be made on either side. Neon demon goes miles over that line. There is no defense for a scene where over the course of what I would estimate to be a couple minutes of screen time, a woman molests a female corpse. The audience sees and hears almost everything. I won't go into further detail. Unfortunately, Refn did. If this weren't bad enough, this footage is intercut with an abstract representation of the woman's fantasy about an underage girl who earlier rejected the woman's advances. The girl is 16 in the film, and Elle Fanning was either 16 or 17 at the time of filming.
I don't consider myself a prude when it comes to dark topics in film. As I said, I firmly believe there are tasteful (or at least acceptable) ways to handle any issue through the medium of film. An example of a film which is uncompromising in depicting evil and yet doesn't cross the line is The Silence of the Lambs. However awful the acts of Hannibal or Buffalo Bill are in that movie, the film is made from a place of heart, of empathy for the victims, a place of humaneness. It doesn't revel in the crimes of its villains. We are meant to be sickened by them. When Hannibal clobbers a policeman (nearly?) to death, the director is very selective in what we see, focusing in on Lecter's demonic glee. It's a thrilling, gut wrenching scene. In Neon Demon's necrophilia scene, everything is fair game. A large part of the reason this scene is so reprehensible to me is that it seems almost as if it's meant to be titillating.
I wonder: How would this film have been received if the necrophile were a man molesting a female corpse?
It's disheartening to me that a small minority of people seeing this film actually like it. I can't help but think (and hope?) that they're simply fooling themselves, that their affection for Refn's previous, far superior films is being unduly extended over this one. As with Only God Forgives, perhaps the cinematography is distracting enough for them to forgive its fundamental storytelling flaws.
But even though I found The Neon Demon intermittently nice to look at, and in spite of my adoration for the genius of Drive and Bronson, I hate this film. Even if I was to pretend there was no sickeningly indulgent necrophilia scene, or other lingering, exploitative shots which directly contradict the premise that the film is an indictment of the male gaze, I would still hate this film, simply because it is so bad.
The Neon Demon
Action / Horror / Thriller
The Neon Demon
Action / Horror / Thriller
The movie opens up with beautiful blond teenage girl, named Jesse (Elle Fanning), sprawled out across a love seat. Blood trickles down her body and onto the love seat and the floor beneath her. She is being photographed by Dean (Karl Glusman), a young amateur photographer whom she met on the Internet. The shoot gives Dean to practice his craft, but its mainly so Jesse can get headshots. After the shoot, she struggles to get the fake blood makeup off her body when makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone) offers to help her. Ruby learns Jesse just moved into town and that this is her first photo shoot. Jesse also says that she is currently staying at a junky flea-bag motel in Pasadena. Ruby offers Jesse friendship and to take her to a party later that night.At the party, Jesse meets two Australian-accented models, Sarah (Abbey Lee) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote) -- Gigi continuously brags about her extensive plastic surgery, and Sarah insists the only thing that matters in this town is "who you're having sex with". Despite the hostile tensions Jesse receives from the veteran models, she enjoys herself at the party by watching a naked model seemingly fly over a stage and hover under a mysterious blue upside-down triangle all to the pulse of flashing strobes lights.The following morning, Jesse interviews at a prestigious modeling agency. Her interviewer, Roberta Hoffman (Christina Hendricks), showers her with compliments on her beauty and the prediction that she will be great. Jesse informs Roberta she's only 16 -- Roberta fixes this with a parental consent form (she pretty much fires two other models while going to retrieve the form) and by getting Jesse to start telling people she's 19 because age 18 is too on the nose.Jesse celebrates her signing that night with Dean. They celebrate by driving up to the Hollywood Hills and looking down at the city below. Jesse talks about how she's always felt talentless but is confident she can make money with her looks. Dean clearly has a crush on her, but is cautious due to her young age. She obviously looks to him for moral support, asking if she should really lie about her age. Dean encourages her to do what she thinks is right.Jesse's next step is a photo shoot with a prestigious photographer named Jack (Desmond Harrington). After Ruby does her makeup, Jack gets one good look at her and announces this photo shoot will be a closed set, leaving him completely alone with Jesse. He tells her to take off her clothes and turn around -- he proceeds to erotically rub her body with gold paint and shoots an amazing photo session. When she finishes, she meets up with Ruby outside who tells her to be careful around guys like Jack. Jesse appreciates Ruby's friendship and the offer to call her if she needs anything.Ruby meets up with Gigi and Sarah at a diner later, where they all take notice of how quickly Jesse is rising in the model circuit. Ruby admits that there is something rather unique with Jesse, which annoys Gigi and Sarah. Meanwhile, Jesse finds something rummaging around in her motel room that night. She informs the unpleasant manager Hank (Keanu Reeves), who inspects the room and finds a cougar has snuck into her room (she left the sliding glass door open while she was gone) Hank demands she pay for the damages left by the wild animal.Jesse finds herself at a casting call the next day. Sarah is also here, and doesn't take kindly to Jesse's presence. The unnamed fashion designer (Allesandro Nivola) is unimpressed by most of the models but takes on an immediate infatuation with Jesse as she auditions. She's immediately hired which crushes Sarah, who breaks down in a bathroom and throws a trash can at the mirror. Jesse walks in and compliments Sarah, but she asks her what it feels like to walk into a room and be loved by everyone Jesse says, its everything. When Jesse cuts her hand on a broken mirror shard, Sarah tries to drink her blood by licking her hand. Jesse panics and runs to her motel. Dean finds her some time later bloody and unconscious. He looks after her by getting the shard out of her hand then paying Hank for the door. Hank taunts Dean by claiming she isn't worth it if he isn't having sex with her he even offers a 13-year old runaway in the room next to Jesse's, which disgusts Dean.A fashion show ran by the unnamed designer is held. Jesse and Gigi both take part of it, but the designer specifically wants to use Jesse as the coveted closing model. As expected, this drives Gigi and the other models crazy. As the show begins, Jesse has an intense hallucination where she sees the mirror images of herself inside making out with each other inside another blue triangle.A little later, Jesse brings Dean to a private event with the designer and models. The designer can't stop talking about how second-rate Gigi is due to all of her plastic surgeries and how Jesse is a diamond in a sea of glass. Dean argues with him over claims that beauty is everything; when he insists Dean would've never bothered with Jesse is she wasn't beautiful, he gets fed up and leaves the party. Jesse finds him waiting for her at the hotel later; he asks her if she seriously wants to be like them Jesse claims they actually all want to be her, and dumps Dean.That night, Jesse dreams that Hank comes into her room and slowly pushes a knife down her throat while softly demanding she open her mouth wider. She wakes up to an unseen man actually trying to enter her room. After getting to get through the locked door, Jesse hears him break into the room next door and rape the 13-year old runaway. Disturbed by this, she calls Ruby who invites her to stay the night at an elegant mansion she's house-sitting. Ruby comforts her, then slowly tries to force herself on her. Jesse assures her she has the wrong idea and claims that she is straight and also a virgin. When Ruby tries again to be intimate, Jesse forcefully pushes her off.The next morning, a frustrated Ruby goes to her second job at the morgue, where she does makeup for bodies awaiting burial. She imagines one of the female corpses as Jesse and pleasures herself while on top of it.Back at the mansion, Jesse dons an elegant gown laid out for her and spends the day applying an elaborate layer of makeup. When Ruby returns home, she finds Jesse standing on a diving board above an empty swimming pool. She tells Ruby that people have always wanted her looks and goes so far to say some people would do anything to achieve her beauty. Jesse retreats back inside the house and finds Gigi and Sarah here; she asks the two girls if they're having a party before they viciously attack her. They chase her back outside to Ruby, who echoes her earlier statements before pushing her into the deep end of the empty pool. The fall kills Jesse and her body is taken by the three girls they then proceed to horrifically eat parts of her body and bathe in her blood (finally revealing that Ruby, Gigi and Sarah are a type of Elizabeth B
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September 19, 2016 at 08:15 PM