Friday, December 30, 2016

The Neon Demon: Van Goughian Nigtmare

I saw The Neon Demon - an original Amazon movie - late last night.  It was listed as a thriller-horror - but that was enough to attract my interest, as well as short roles by Mad Men's Christina Hendricks and everyone's Keanu Reeves.   I don't know if I'd call it either a thriller or a horror, though it had plenty of blood.  Van Goughian nightmare might be a better label.

The single best part of The Neon Demon, written and directed  Nicolas Winding Refn, was the color.  It was a treat, a roller coaster ride, and an assault on the senses - which is to say, the surreal, Impressionistic coloring in every scene was a major and memorable player in this story.  In that sense, Neon Demon has a kinship with Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge.

But The Neon Demon has a barely discernible story, or narrative that so closely intertwined with someone's dream that the plot is difficult to follow.  The gist is that Jesse (well played by Elle Fanning) is a beautiful 16-year old, advised by Christina Hendrick's character to say she's 19, who is trying to break into the LA model scene.  She's befriended by Ruby (Jena Malone), the most interesting character in the movie, a make-up artist for models and the dead, which says something right there.   Meanwhile, Jesse's so gorgeous that she does break in - as well as being coveted by all manner of men and women - but the price is her own mentality.

Assuming that crucial parts of the story are in her head not actually on and in her body.  At times, this razor-edge ambiguity works perfectly - as when we discover that Jesse's corpse made love to in the morgue is (likely) not her assailant's fantasy but Jesse's.  But other times, I needed a little more to know whether the copious blood on the screen was really flowing or just imagined.

There's also some intelligent aesthetic philosophy in The Neon Demon, mainly about how important erotic beauty - stunning sexual attractiveness - really is in human life, and in Hollywood in particular. In that regard, The Neon Demon is also reminiscent of some David Lynch's work, including Blue Velvet, one of my all-time favorite movies.

But The Neon Demon is something different.  See it with a grain of salt, and be prepared to be disappointed and engaged, annoyed and bedazzled, all at the same time. 
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