Monday, January 8, 2018

Film Review: The Neon Demon (2016)

The Neon Demon (Review)
France/Denmark/United States/2016
Format Viewed for Review: Amazon Video
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"It's a visual masterpiece, but a lackluster cinematic experience."

Sixteen-year-old Jesse (Elle Fanning) moves to Los Angeles to pursue a career in modeling, but she quickly becomes the target of lust, envy, and her own narcissism.

The Neon Demon is rich in beauty and symbolism while lacking plot and character. The film follows Jesse, a young aspiring model who moves to Los Angeles from small-town Georgia. She begins her career as a humble model working with Dean, a photographer she met online. Despite her lack of experience, Jesse is signed to an agency, but she's told to pretend she's nineteen—and so she does. She quickly rises through the ranks as photographers are attracted to her natural body and her innocence. She also attracts the dangerous attention of other models. And... there really isn't much more to summarize. It leads to a decent climax and an interesting ending.

I enjoyed the first act of The Neon Demon. Okay, I'll be generous: I really liked the first half. It moved at a slow pace, but it captured my attention. It was tense and unnerving at times. It alluded to some very disturbing themes. It forced its way under my skin and it stayed there... until it suddenly decided to leave. The Neon Demon is beautiful and symbolic, but the plot and the characters are thin. In terms of plot, there really aren't any major plot points. It doesn't go anywhere for a while. It sets up multiple subplots, but it never delivers any satisfying conclusions. It doesn't bother to tie up those loose ends. The obsession with being 'deep' also harms the film as director Nicolas Winding Refn allows shots to linger for far too long, seemingly to show off the beauty and symbolism of each frame. This bloats the runtime, which, along with the uneventful plot, creates a dreadfully slow and boring second-half.

The acting is fine. Elle Fanning performed well as the leading lady. Jena Malone also delivered a strong performance. The supporting cast wasn't bad, but they didn't really get the time or character to shine. Keanu Reeves is barely in this. Perhaps that was part of Refn's message, though. The film was beautifully shot. The use of color, the camerawork, the cinematography... It's gorgeous. If you watch it, it's definitely a film you want to watch in Ultra HD. The screenplay was written by Refn, Mary Laws, and Polly Stenham; Refn also served as director. The film had three writers and I'd like to know what they were writing. There isn't much here. It's shallow—is that the point? Refn's direction fares better, especially during the first half. He knows how to create tension and he doesn't shy away from taboo subjects when he wants to deliver a message. Unfortunately, recently, he often gets caught up on the 'art' of things, which can lead to some dull moments in his films. In terms of art-house, he hasn't quite matched Kim Ki-Duk's skill.

Overall, The Neon Demon is a mediocre film. It is beautiful, it is symbolic—there's meaning behind each frame—but it just fails as a movie. It's entertaining and interesting for about an hour, then it just loses steam and refuses to go anywhere. It's a visual masterpiece, but a lackluster cinematic experience.

Score: 4/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood, nudity and sex.

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