Neon Demon (2016) Movie Review

By: Bill Arcenaux (A Toast) –

Elle Fanning’s youth, both the look and feel of it, plus the innocence / purity associated, are not at once a unique phenomenon nor an end all event. Los Angeles is a city constantly being torn down and rebuilt, both by monsters. Monsters not created by L.A., but encouraged by it. In The Neon Demon, Fanning is a returning Godzilla creature, though it is up to you to determine her allegiance and, thus, if L.A. deserves to be saved or decimated completely.

Early on, while on a harmless and starry-eyed date, she stands on top of a hill that overlooks the city as a whole. She tip toes and steps carefully, almost dancing, against this backdrop, smiling cutely and shyly. At this point, she’s been told over and over again by model industry professionals how great she’ll be and how beautiful she is. These adulations have broken her out of a shell, and now she’s free to roam like a beast. Though, she chooses not to kick or stomp, but to lightly move and feel her prettiness. Or to show off like a true runway gal, saying nothing but being loud about it anyways. Attention craving without begging. She’s gonna create some chaos.

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… but a bit more gingerly.

A Toast

The Neon Demon is not a movie meant to be devoured easily. You’ll either savor and let it digest or throw it up in a fit of laughter or anger. Actually, I’d be suspicious of an audience member who eats popcorn as if they were watching Independence Day: Resurgence. THAT’S off-putting. So is this movie, but for different reasons. More purposeful reasons.

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Yes. With MORE purpose.

If I were to guess, this will make the end of year list for director John Waters who, typically, chooses some pretty decadent and provocative films. Neon Demon is almost riot-inducing in its suggestive, seductive, and shocking images. If played for a different era, this would be the case. It’d be received much like an early Alejandro Jodorowsky film. Maddening. It’s maddening. Even today, it’s maddening. Bright colors, trippy mirrors, shifty transitions, and a creepy subconscious are all laid bare, one after another, frame by frame. It’s designed specifically to make us feel uncomfortable sometimes, perverted other times, and wise beyond our sweetness all the time. Saying very little, we feel the characters more vividly than 3D could accommodate. We feel the setting, too. We feel it changing us throughout. We morph with it, identifying with some rather twisted predicaments, best left for a Bret Easton Ellis novel.

I’ll never forget the end of a screening I attended for Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain. Once the end credits rolled, a teenage girl stood up, looked at her friend, and exclaimed, “That was gay”. During my showing of The Neon Demon, a group laughed at just about every turn. In the case of The Fountain, while that girl is certainly entitled to her opinion, I feel it was the wrong mindset. In the case of Neon Demon, that group gave a response that only clicked with me a day later. Ironic appreciation? Did they see this film as a joke? Was this film a joke? Are most films, ones of this ilk or not, jokes? I’m not sure. It’s intensely possible. If so, it’s a sadistic joke, giving new meaning to the word “punchline”. While they thought they were laughing at it, they were really encouraging and taking part with it. Movies aren’t always static; they can feel new with every viewing. Neon Demon is alive and hungry more than most flicks I’ve seen in some time.

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Verdict

Attractive and dangerous. I love how Refn made a violent populist romance in Drive, only to make back to back stories that take his style further, and make some of his loyalists question it all. Once you hear that soundtrack, you’ll be back for more.

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Neon Demon (2016) Drinking Game

Take a Drink: for the duration of Nicolas Winding Refn’s signature on the opening credits (one long sip). *Not recommended

Take a Drink: because of Keanu Reeves.

Do a Shot: if Drive sucked you in, and now you can’t escape.

About Bill Arceneaux

Independent film critic from New Orleans and member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA).

One comment

  1. “You’ll either savor and let it digest or throw it up in a fit of laughter or anger.” I choose the latter 😉 Great review!

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