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Review: ‘The Neon Demon’

the-neon-demon-poster-finalProduced by Lene Børglum, Nicolas Winding Refn
Screenplay by Mary Laws, Nicolas Winding Refn, Polly Stenham
Story by Nicolas Winding Refn
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Christina Hendricks, and Keanu Reeves

The city of Los Angeles should replace the HOLLYWOOD sign with the words “Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate”, or “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here”, the famous words by Dante that adorn the gates of Hell.

At least the LA captured in Nicolas Winding Refn’s new film The Neon Demon.

The acclaimed Danish director of the popular neo-noir film Drive (2011), starring Ryan Gosling and the brutal Bronson (2008), about career-criminal Michael Peterson, has returned. He has turned his ever precise and unique eye on the horror genre.

The Neon Demon, on the surface, tells the age old tale of young ingenue newly arrived in LA to become a model and is seemingly eaten up and swallowed by the fashion world she wishes to be in. Under the fragile surface of gloss and glimmer lies the true story.

This is Refn’s take on the classic story and the results are frightening.

Nicolas Winding Refn loves to turn genres on their head. His tale is seen through the distorted lens of the horror film.

Beat by beat he builds the crescendo of suspense to a final unsuspected climax.

Think Showgirls (1995) and Tony Scott’s The Hunger (1983) meets Let the Right One In (2008). The uneasiness and foreboding in this film is suffocating, and you aren’t sure from where to get air from. It is all around yet there is no way to breathe.

Everything is exactly as you would expect. Or is it? To say, would be to give the whole thing away and that is not what I am here to do.

What I AM here to do is say, I loved it AND I have no idea how to recommend this film to anyone.

The visuals were stunning and slick like a 1980’s, glossy, high fashion photo shoot. Refn picks his shots carefully and sparingly. He also shoots in chronological order as to allow the actors to develop as the story is told. Written with sparing dialogue the story is mainly told through its striking visuals.

The acting was perfectly executed by the entire cast. It had to be with so much of the story left to visual cues and not on the actual dialog.

The main quartet of actresses are sublime.

Elle Fanning, as Jesse, the Georgia girl turned cutthroat runway model is about as different than her Aurora in Maleficent (2014) as you can get. She is as haunting as she is beautiful. Her transformation is disturbingly believable.

Jena Malone’s Ruby, a make-up artist who is first bewitched by Jesse’s allure is fantastic in a role that will surely be talked about in the months ahead.

Rounding out the four main ladies are Australian actress, Bella Heathcote who recently played Jane Bennet, in this year’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and supermodel turned actress, Abbey Lee who was seen escaping Immortal Joe in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road as The Dag, one of the five wives. They play Gigi and Sarah respectively, two rival models who befriend Jesse and also compete with her for the same modeling jobs.

The slow methodical pacing of the story is sometimes surreal and is often juxtaposed with the jarringly intense sequences that are well timed and thought out. Refn’s exploration of the genre he was trying to encapsulate is masterful.

In true Nicolas Winding Refn nature, he loves to both laude and make fun of the arthouse films he is sometimes pigeon holed into and that is so great. For me it was the source of a lot of the humor in this film.

Where I have a hard time recommending this film is in the darkness of the black humor.

This film is hilarious.

It has, however, a sense of humor that is not for everyone. Keanu Reeves, who plays the failed actor now motel manager where Jesse lives is creepy as fuck yet has an underlining humor about him that is unsettling.

Case in point is that at this press screening no less than 15 people walked and/or stormed out of the theater halfway to 3/4 of the way through it.

I won’t lie. I derived much entertainment from the audiences’ reactions to the film as much as the film itself.

This movie is like Roman Polanski, Russ Meyer, Tony Scott, and Nicholas Roeg had a baby with David Lynch and that baby ate Lars Von Trier and then made The Neon Demon.

Though that alone makes me want to tell everyone to go see it.

Never mind. Go see it.

I do know one thing. This film will be insanely polarized with reviews. People are either going to love the hell out of this movie or they are going to want to burn the negatives and prints and pretend it never happened.

One of the other critics at the show said that the audience at Cannes both booed and gave it a huge ovation of applause simultaneously.

So there is that.

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