The Neon Demon


When Drive came out back in 2011, it was my first exposure to Director Nicolas Winding Refn. I was immediately taken with the film. I just loved everything about it. The cinematography was stunning, the cast was outstanding, and that score by Cliff Martinez. Martinez is the John Williams to Refn’s Spielberg. All of the pieces fit together so well. It was my favorite picture that year and I’m still harboring a considerable amount of outrage at the number of accolades it didn’t receive.

Two years later, Only God Forgives came out. Another Refn directed, super-saturated, neon-lit Ryan Gosling film. Only this time around, not even Gosling’s chiseled good looks and patented stony gaze could save it. I’ve walked out of two movies in my life; Silent Hill and Only God Forgives. I left Silent Hill because my friends and I were hammered and we wanted to go swimming in the lake instead. I fled from Only God Forgives because I could hear my brain cells screaming as they died fighting off an aneurysm.

In his review of Only God Forgives — to which he generously awarded 1 star — Roger Ebert said: “If there is one small tidbit of innovation and originality in the film, it is Cliff Martinez’s ambient, mesmerizing, gorgeous score. One of the year’s best, it belongs in a much more accomplished work. At one point during the film, a character says to the crowd: “Whatever happens, keep your eyes shut.” When it comes to “Only God Forgives,” that’s good advice for us all.”

The Neon Demon — or as I like to call it, SMH: The Movie — is about a girl named Jesse (Elle Fanning) who has just moved to California from small town USA to chase her modeling aspirations. Just 16-years-old, she’s got the seasoned professionals in the industry shaking in their YSL pumps. She signs quickly with an agency and befriends a makeup artist by the name of Ruby (Jena Malone).

I’d tell you more about the plot if there was more to tell. The remaining hour and 30 minutes consist of Elle Fanning making the same face over and over and over and over and over again — sorry for the superfluous “over” usage, but I really want to drive the point home — and one of the most disturbing scenes in cinematic history. And I’ve see all three Human Centipede movies.

The film is a series of bizarre sequences involving triangles, light, and the complete lack of an epilepsy warning where one is needed. It’s all set to Cliff Martinez’s score, which — as usual — is hauntingly beautiful.

Mercifully, the film does reach an eventual conclusion. Refn and Fanning made an appearance to do a Q&A after the screening. According to Refn, it’s an exploration of the importance our society places on being beautiful. He also said that every man wishes to live as a 16-year-old girl and if you say you don’t, you’re lying.

Poor Elle Fanning — recent High School graduate! — came in wearing a black tank top and these really cool jeans that looked like a mermaid tail. I can’t imagine what her life consists of on this publicity tour for the movie with Refn. Perhaps a menagerie of awkward silences, off-putting comments, and probably out-of-nowhere tears for the 16-year-old girls of the world. To be a fly on the wall.

I usually tell you to go see movies even if I don’t care for them, but I wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight if I told you to pay today’s movie theater prices to see this film. Wait ’til it comes to Netflix, and then watch something else.


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