Blu-ray Review: The Neon Demon
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The Neon Demon
Blu-ray l DVD
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Written by: Mary Laws, Nicolas Winding Refn, Polly Stenham
Starring: Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves
Distributor: Broad Green Pictures
Rated R | 117 Minutes
Release Date: September 27, 2016

“Beauty isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”

In The Neon Demon, the latest film from writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives), Elle Fanning (Maleficent, Super 8) stars as Jesse, a teenage orphan who moves to Los Angeles to pursue a modeling career. After her first photoshoot, she meets makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone, The Hunger Games series), who takes her to a party at a club where she is introduced to fellow models Sarah (Abbey Lee, Mad Max: Fury Road) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies).

The women are captivated by Jesse’s youth and purity and clearly threatened by her arrival on the LA modeling scene. After she’s signed by the owner of a big-time agency (Mad Men‘s Christina Hendricks), Jesse is sent on a test shoot with a notable photographer, Jack (Desmond Harrington). After the closed set photoshoot with Jack is a success, Jesse takes meetings with preeminent fashion designers and photographers. Sarah and Gigi’s envy grows as Ruby becomes more and more infatuated with the young girl. Envy and infatuation intersect when the three women decide they want Jesse’s natural beauty for themselves, and will take any means necessary to have it.

An Avant-garde satire of the fashion industry, The Neon Demon feels like Mark Robson’s Valley of the Dolls mixed with Dario Argento’s Suspiria. It’s a strange, hallucinatory horror thriller that is very complex in terms of style and technique, but entirely obvious and undemanding in its message. If Refn’s commentary is that Los Angeles is filled with beautiful, empty creatures who “eat their own” and destroy the natural beauty around them, there are countless, more entertaining films that make that not-so-bold statement. At this point, a more compelling commentary might be that fashion models and LA-types can be more than animated mannequins – that they can make for three-dimensional characters, instead of glitter-and-grease-painted props.

The kids in Spring Breakers and The Bling Ring, or the women-turned-monsters in horror films like Jennifer’s Body and Starry Eyes, are perhaps more successful takes on the kind of self-obsessed characters Refn is exploring here. And as far as “horror couture” is concerned, movies like Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac, and Todd Lincoln’s short film, Gorgeous Vortex, are more potent. Still, there isn’t anything about The Neon Demon that is completely off-putting. It’s neither pretentious hogwash nor the blood-splattered brilliance of a mad genius. It’s somewhere in the middle, a beautiful looking movie with pulsating music (courtesy of Drive‘s Cliff Martinez), hyper-saturated visuals, and hypnotic compositions, that wastes its meticulously crafted mood (and talented ensemble) on a plot that just isn’t that engrossing. In this way, Refn has become arthouse Zack Snyder, a visionary who conjures up striking (and violent) imagery but can’t wield it to tell an engaging story.

As for the Blu-ray itself, the release offers a widescreen 2.40:1 presentation and English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Español DTS Digital Surround 5.1 audio tracks, making it stunning to behold, even if the story at the center of the spectacle is unfulfilling. Special features include an audio commentary with Refn and Elle Fanning and two short featurettes: “Behind the Soundtrack of The Neon Demon (05:08)” and “About The Neon Demon (01:12).”

Is this high-definition release worth picking up? I guess that depends on where you fall on Refn’s polarizing filmography. While not as accessible as the critically acclaimed Drive, The Neon Demon is certainly an improvement on his last film, the nigh unwatchable Only God Forgives. If your expectations are low, you might have a fun time with Refn’s silly, surface-level satire. There’s the feeling that, even if you think it’s a masterpiece, your appreciation of it will fall short next to Refn’s opinion of his work. He seems to think he’s made a searingly relevant work of art, while I’m left hoping that – like Zack Snyder – he’ll adapt another great piece of material (Hossein Amini’s Drive script was based on James Sallis’ novel) instead of stumbling through his own attempts at storytelling.


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