The Neon Demon Thoughts
The Neon Demon is one of the most controversial films of the year. Nicolas Winding Refn continues to provoke conversations about his films. I’ll be frank here, I loved Only God Forgives and I have my beliefs on why it’s a great film. I thought I’d be one of Neon Demon’s biggest supporters because of the mixed response but the movie turned out to be trash and possibly Winding Refn’s worst movie.
Neon Demon starts off really good and it remained good till the last half an hour kicked in. The movie went off the rails and lost focus of what it was trying to be. The first 2 acts are weird and slow but they fit the context of the movie. In the third act, it felt as if Refn wanted to offend as many people as he could and live up to the reputation of the weird film maker audiences have dubbed him. I like that Refn has a very similar to style to David Lynch’s with a mixture of 80’s elements but Neon Demon suffers from poor characters and a crappy script.
I’ll start off with the good and why its tough to call it a piece of crap. The acting from the entire cast is great. Surprisingly, Abbey Lee turned out to be one of the bigger stars in the movie. It’s very rare to see supermodels turned actors be good but Abbey Lee has shown to have a lot of talent. Everyone else is an established acto,r so them being great wasn’t as big of a surprise but it’d be criminal to ignore how terrific they were. Also a special shout out to Keanu Reeves who is taking on more challenging roles and showing that he’s not a bad actor. I like Keanu as an all around person and I’m glad to see him turning out good performances after being plagued as a bad actor his entire career. Sadly his character is unnecessary in the movie and could have been easily cut out. Besides the acting, Winding Refn’s directing is top notch. The composition in the film is terrific, the cinematography is gorgeous, and the film is loaded with symbolism, & some great dialogue. And you’ve probably already heard of Cliff Martinez’s terrific work on the score.
Unfortunately the film falls apart in the third act and the good cannot save it. Most of the movie is slow but that’s okay as long as the payoff is good. Instead, the climax is rushed and bears very little payoff to Elle Fanning’s Jessie’s story. It’s obvious where her character’s direction was heading but the changes in her personality feel a bit sudden. At points she’s confident, and then at other points she’s helpless. It’s too jarring of a characterization. Also, she’s a very idiotic character making stupid decisions and it’s hard to empathize with her. With Drive you had an emotional attachment to The Driver and with Only God Forgives you had an attachment to Julian’s arc but there’s no attachment to be made with Jessie. Even the supporting characters suffer as well.
The love interest, Dean miraculously disappears and I’ve seen theories of people trying to point out he’s a predator. That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard. If you even pad attention, you would know it’s not true. There’s no actual basis to it besides him taking stupid photographs in the beginning. I think that was more of a mistake on Refn’s part and he intended him to be a solid good guy. Sadly his story goes nowhere and leaves no impact. It’s incomplete. Keanu Reeve’s motel owner is an interesting creepy character that kind of does nothing. Him being outrageously weird and creepy has no payoff and his character could have been cut out. Bella Heathcote’s and Abbey Lee’s characters are the only ones who sort of stay in character. Even Jenna Malone’s character goes out of character by becoming a typical trope. There is some foreshadowing of what happened in the end but it betrays the realms of reality the film set. It feels out of place and very trashy.
The movie does have its weird moments and that’s not a bad thing. If the weirdness’s purpose is to toy with the audience and strengthen the film, then you’re allowed to get away with it. I loved the weirdness of the first 2 acts even if scenes were drawn out. In the third act, the weirdness doesn’t service the film anymore. It’s being weird for the sake of being weird. We get a scene of necrophilism which served no freaking purpose to the movie and other random scenes that again, have no point. I have yet to see anyone break down why those scenes were in the movie. The movie becomes an entirely new film and it’s apparent that it’s lost its direction. Most of the scenes afterwards are drawn out and the dialogue becomes very bad. The movie doesn’t know where it wants to go besides shocking the viewer. We are then treated to an overlong epilogue after a shockingly bland climax. It was at that this point, I was tempted to walk out of the film because I felt insulted as a viewer. The main character’s story ended and I was being treated to stuff I didn’t care about. There’s a lot of weird scenes and then a really disgusting end scene that’s apparently supposed to make me feel something for certain somebodies? The Neon Demon was compared to movies like Mulholland Dr and Black Swan but those movies heightened till the very end and the payoffs were all worthy. They were just as dark & cynical but at least I dealt with a journey.
The Neon Demon’s claims to be a horror film are pretentious. There’s nothing truly horrific about it. Sure the commentary is horrific but most people already know the fashion industry is shallow. The film sets up an arc in the beginning only to set up a completely new movie towards the end. The film doesn’t care about its narrative or its build up in the end and just wants to shock and disgust viewers. I felt this was Refn’s response to the bad reception Only God Forgives get. This was him trying to get back at critics to show he can do even more offensive things but at the end it only comes off childish. David Lynch never stooped this low and did whatever he pleased. You were either with him or against him. There’s things to be appreciate about the movie like the symbolism, the direction and cinematography but you can’t disguise crap with flashy substances. At the end of the day it’s crap. I appreciate the movie for its idea and commentary on the fashion industry but that’s all it is. An idea and someone needed to help flesh out Refn’s idea. Refn’s a smart guy and a good director but Neon Demon makes him come off like a disturbed egotistical prick and he’s lucky that it didn’t damage his career. I only hope that Refn recovers and doesn’t make bad movies like The Neon Demon.