The Deckie Techie Reviews – The Neon Demon!
Our resident Deckie Techie (a.k.a. Blandine Ruffo) reviews THE NEON DEMON…
I found myself going alone to the first screening of The Neon Demon, after friends and acquaintances politely declined to use the ticket I had already bought, most repelled by that subversive word in the film’s synopsis: “Horror”.
I’m not in any way a big fan of the horror genre. But I bravely decided to go on my own, and had post-horror film strategies put in place, involving daylight and children’s laughter (not the creepy kind, of course).
Now that I’ve seen it, let me brief you. This is not the kind of horror you wish you hadn’t seen, the kind that throws shivers down your spine well after the film’s finished.
After all, the Horror genre is very diverse. Horror encompasses both the startling apparition in the bathroom cabinet mirror (makes me lose it every time), as well as subtler atmospheric unease, such as found in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. The Shining gives an idea of the kind of Horror we are dealing with in The Neon Demon. The Neon Demon is nothing like those manufactured products that ticks along the boxes of the genre (think Final Destination 1, 2, 3, 4 … and 5). The Neon Demon is a much more complex work, enjoyable on many more levels than the commercial horror blockbusters made to fit the mould.
“Beauty isn’t Everything… It’s the Only thing.” With this brash statement delivered to the audience through one of The Neon Demon’s cryptic characters, Director Nicolas Winding Refn has us warned. He’s all about the aesthetics. Consequently, it’s difficult to criticize the plot when the creator has told us outright that the plot is not his focus. Yet in The Neon Demon, beauty is so overwhelming that it becomes tangible, substantial, enough in itself to almost substitute the plot. Each shot is an absolute delight for the eyes and ears, as you would rightfully expect from the director of Drive and Only God Forgives.
Take the film’s setting. The story is meant to be set in Los Angeles, yet nothing feels real. It is less LA that is presented to us, than a Lynch-esque allegory of it. A cold, fleshy, nightmarish vision of the ever-fantasised city.
If Winding Refn’s LA is depicted as a sombre post-modern version of Greece’s Mount Olympus, the characters are its much-flawed godly inhabitants. In fact, they are presented to us as inseparable from the film itself. They have no past, no future. They are here to serve the purpose of their creator’s canvas, much like the superficial fashion designer uses its models. They also impersonate Vice in its many forms, and the stakes taking us through the plot are merely a mesh of pagan mythologies (Narcissus, witchery, etc). Therefore, what keeps us engaged and entertained is our curiosity about this coded, cryptic world, being drawn towards the unknown. Just like the protagonist Jesse, we timidly enter this threatening but seductive maze.
The profusion of obvious references to masters such as Kubrick and Lynch verge on copycat work. Nevertheless, the result is exhilarating. I knew I would be converted as soon as the movie opened with an outright homage to the opening scene of A Clockwork Orange, a scene which marks a big turn in many a cinephile’s life, including mine. I went on to notice many more Kubrickesque nuggets throughout the viewing.
As enjoyable as this homage-like directing style was, the director seems to – consciously or not – expose his own insecurities. Is he afraid to find his own style? Can we liken him to a character in his own film, the model who proudly calls herself the “bionic woman”, for giving into so much surgery that she doesn’t look real anymore? Or the boringly superficial fashion designer, trying to sound witty and poetic but really only interested in appearances? Is this film his own attempt to ward-off the spell of mortality and passing trends? The Neon Demon may then well be his cinematic elixir, made of the creative blood of past metteurs en scène.
Despite those questions, my bid is that you will leave the screening with replete cinematic senses, and a hungry mind. I must admit my personal expectations were exceeded. I definitely recommend you take this opportunity on 12 March to enjoy the film on the big screen, where it belongs in all its visual and audial splendour. This is a film to talk about over dinner with your friends (which you’ll have successfully convinced to come along with you!). There won’t be any daylight or children’s laughter after this final screening (the film starts at 5pm), but now you know you probably won’t need it.
You may get a glimpse of Blandine in the kiosk when she is not behind the scenes keeping Deckchairs cogs turning…