The Neon Demon

2016 horror movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A young aspiring model is poised to become the next big thing, but everybody wants to eat her.

I really wanted to like this a lot. If I judged the movie only on its visual appeal and the soundtrack, I'd definitely rate it more highly. While watching it, I convinced myself that it was pretty great. After watching it, I convinced myself that I didn't really like it very much because of a weak story, flat characters, tired themes, and an overly-cold feel. Now it's a little later, and I'm starting to wonder if I liked it more than I thought.

I'm still pretty convinced that it's an overall empty film. Thematically, it's a bit of a fish-in-the-barrel type deal. What? The fashion industry can devour a human being? No way! However, there's a certain ingenuity in using that idea at the center of a horror film.

And horror films rarely come as artistic or as visually stimulating as this one. The opening, both visually and aurally, is just about the best opening I've seen since seeing A Clockwork Orange for the first time. The Cliff Martinez score recalls the darkest corners of the 1980s and perfectly compliments the seizure-inducing colors of this thing. Visually, this is unapologetically artistic, just gaudy and so daring. Breathtakingly eye-opening, this movie elevates the horror genre to something artistic and completely pretentious, like you'd expect from a Dario Argento film or something.

There are a lot of people who aren't going to like this because of its weirdness and its darkness. I'd love to be able to say that those people would still love the way Nicolas Winding Refn can compose a shot, but I think the look would be equally off-putting to some. The film's ideas combined with the visuals, so different than almost everything else human beings see, are just too much for most people, I think.

That coldness. I realize it's all part of the point, but it almost drains some of the appeal from the movie. The performances are stilted for the most part although the villainous presences--like nefarious symbols in an allegory--are well conceived. I was impressed with the very young (too young?) Elle Fanning, a corruptible innocent in this ravenous world.

If you enjoy Refn's other work, you'll have a head start on this one though you still might not be completely prepared. I think this movie is worth seeing, especially if you're one of my more adventurous movie-watching readers.

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