Julian, a drug-smuggler thriving in Bangkok's criminal underworld, sees his life get even more complicated when his mother compels him to find and kill whoever is responsible for his brother's recent death.
Nicolas Winding Refn
Kristin Scott Thomas,
The sixteen year-old aspiring model Jesse arrives in Los Angeles expecting to be a successful model. The aspirant photographer Dean takes photos for her portfolio and dates her. Jesse befriends the lesbian makeup artist Ruby and then the envious models Gigi and Sarah in a party. Meanwhile, the agency considers Jesse beautiful with a "thing" that makes her different and she is sent to the professional photographer Jack. Jesse attracts the attention of the industry and experiences a successful beginning of her career. Ruby, Gigi and Sarah, however, will do whatever is necessary to get this "thing" for themselves.Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Refn is possessed by a demon that feasts on all that is trite and shiny
As a viewer who has enjoyed a handful of Nicolas Winding Refn's works like Drive, Bronson, Valhalla Rising, and even Only God Forgives – which I defended wholeheartedly in a 2013 Amazon review – it pains me a little to kick off my review with the following statement: It is difficult to decide what I dislike most about Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon. Critics giving Demon positive reviews and arguing that its monomaniacal focus on style is intentionally on par with the film's message are missing the reality that NWR's creative juices are simply dried up at the moment.
So what is the least admirable trait of Refn's latest? Is it the paucity original thought? The onslaught of the routinely neon- drenched Kubrickian imagery? The fact that a good sixth of the movie feels like the director got away with making fetish porn with an Amazon Studios (and about a half dozen other production companies) budget? I'm not even going to start in on the film's literal blood baths, but I think that the lack of originality is probably the worst part.
Audiences have already seen everything that The Neon Demon has to offer. Cinematically speaking, there is nothing more than the usual slew of rehashed Kubrick frames (including a groan-worthy Shining shout out within the first few minutes). Aside from a memorable strobe- light inspired scene of a performance at a model- populated L.A. party, Refn adds nothing new to his aesthetic arsenal that he has not already splashed on the screen with his previous four films.
From a narrative standpoint, one should not expect a fully-formed, fleshed out story or characters. These are not Refn's preoccupations when making a movie, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that. That is, if the film's style and themes can compensate. Stylistically (see paragraph above), it does not hold any substantial weight. Unfortunately, there is even more of a thematic drought.
At one point in the film, the increasingly narcissistic protagonist Jesse (Elle Fanning) says that other girls will cut, carve, inject, and do anything else to their own bodies just so that they can look like a second- rate version of her. The girl from the small town who seemed so nice starts becoming a bit conceited by her time in the fashion industry. Can you believe it? Imagine that! Wow, what is the director trying to say about fashion? Hollywood? The male gaze? SOCIETY?
If there is one thing that 2106 films like The Neon Demon and Zoolander 2 should be teaching would-be blockbuster directors and art-house auteurs alike, it is that the fashion industry has become one of the stalest targets for satire in any artistic medium or genre. It's not that superficiality doesn't deserve it, but at this point if a writer or a director has nothing original to say about it, then they should not be saying anything all.
To be fair, the trite and shiny cloud of unoriginality that is The Neon Demon does have its silver linings. I have never felt so badly for a film score than I do for Cliff Martinez's excellent work on this soundtrack. While the message of the movie will blend in with the mental smoothie of other Hollywood/superficiality parable flicks, I will not easily be able to excise Martinez's thumping synths from my ears. I will also never forget the intensity of Abbey Lee's stares.
There are also less silvery scenes involving Jena Malone taking the tired psycho lesbian trope to whole new level and an absurdly Nicolas Cage-esque Keanu Reeves as an acrimonious motel manager that I will not forget for other reasons (primarily the random shock-less "shock value" senselessness of them). I wish I could recommend The Neon Demon as a startlingly original work from a gifted auteur, but it feels like Refn simply isn't challenging himself or the audience in any meaningful way. Here's hoping that this kind of trite and shiny would-be shock fest will not be the only thing that Refn has to offer cinema in the future.
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