Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Neon Demon

The body of a girl lies draped over an ivory coloured French-revival sofa, her throat slit from ear to ear, rivulets of dark crimson dripping languidly down her limp arm. Her electric blue dress has ridden up her hips, revealing much of her slightly parted legs. Bathed in the funereal glow of a diffused light source, she is lit up periodically by the flashes of a fashion-photographer, while an eerie-ambient soundtrack plays in the background, establishing the necro-erotic opening shot for The Neon Demon.

This is director Nicolas Winding Refn's latest venture. What sort of name is that anyway - okay, he is Danish. Refn established himself on the directorial stage with the 2011 crime-noir film Drive (starring Ryan Gosling as a getaway driver) and followed it up with the ultra-stylistic and ultra-violent Only God Forgives.

Director Nicolas Winding Refn shares a couch with a dead model [image source: The Guardian]

The Neon Demon is about a small-town teenage girl with iridescent good looks, who comes to LA (the seductive neon lights of the city give the film its name), briefly scales the dizzying and predatory heights of a city obsessed with fashion and beauty, before she is chewed up and spat out, until all that remains of her is one bloodied eyeball on a bathroom floor. Literally.

There is not much in the way of storyline or character development, but this super-stylistic film is a finely crafted piece of post-modern art - dazzling and provocative. Refn skirts around the edges of what is socially acceptable, indeed he actually crosses the line on occasion - there are scenes of female necrophilia and cannibalism. Regardless of the shock factor, every shot is visually spectacular and some of them had me mouthing "wow". 

Elle Fanning (Dakota's less famous sister) plays a 16-year old girl of ethereal beauty, a star so dazzlingly bright that despite her lack of runway experience, is lapped up by the best name in fashion, eclipsing more established models around her. 

There are touches of the absurd - in one scene, a mountain lion invades her shabby motel room, and the dream world sometimes blends with the real - she wakes up to find a knife being plunged down her open mouth millimetre-by-pain-staking-millimetre, this time by a human invader (played by the still-handsome 51 year old Keanu Reaves) - only to wake up again, from a dream.

At its screening at Cannes this year, half the audience walked out (the other half loved it), and if the director keeps this up, he is going to acquire the reputation of his controversial Danish compatriot, Lars von Trier. Cliff Martinez is director of music, and his other-worldly electro-synth tracks reminiscent of the music of Tangerine Dream lend an even more uncomfortable quality to the already edgy visuals. 

If you liked Drive, go watch the Neon Demon. If you didn't, go watch it anyway - you will be witness to cinematic history in the making.

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