The Neon Demon Blu-ray Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Blu-ray released by Broad Green Pictures
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Written by Nicolas Winding Refn, Mary Laws, and Polly Stenham
2016, 117 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on September 27th, 2016
Elle Fanning as Jesse
Karl Glusman as Dean
Jena Malone as Ruby
Bella Heathcote as Gigi
Abbey Lee as Sarah
Desmond Harrington as Jack
Christina Hendricks as Roberta Hoffmann
Keanu Reeves as Hank
The first film I saw from directory Nicholas Winding Refn was Drive, and I was blown away by his style. Being a huge fan of filmmaker Michael Mann, I was immediately drawn to Refn's use of composition and color in Drive because it's so reflective of Mann's works like Heat, Collateral, and even Miami Vice (like that film or not, you can't say it's not stylistic). Because of all this, I was eager to check out more from the young filmmaker.
I was really disappointed in his early effort Bronson, but Only God Forgives (his follow up to Drive) is enjoyable. Granted, the story is a bit weak, but the visuals elevate the film; making it a bit better than it should have been. And that's the same with Refn's latest film, this time in the horror genre, The Neon Demon. There's an immense amount of style, but not a lot of substance.
Focusing on Jesse, a 16-year-old model trying to bust into the business, The Neon Demon goes to great lengths to show how scummy the model business is; not just with the infighting of the women themselves, but also the photographers and other people behind the scenes. From top to bottom, it's a dog-eat-dog environment, where you can't trust anyone because everyone is out for themselves. It's a paper-thin plot that you're already familiar with because you've heard the story a thousand times already.
But what makes The Neon Demon different is not what's being told, but what you see on screen as it's being told. Every single shot is gorgeous and intentional. On the disc's commentary, Refn admits that he does not have a shooting script, which I find astonishing because of the sheer beauty of this film. Watching The Neon Demon is not unlike watching a great Dario Agento film such as Suspiria or Tenebre. Even if you aren't sold on the story, you can't take your eyes away from the screen because visually, it's perfection.
Elle Fanning is phenomenal as the Jesse, the small town girl finding her way in the big city of LA. According to the commentary, she was 17 herself when filming The Neon Demon, and she effortlessly travels the arc of innocent, naïve child to an experienced "you made me this way" angry woman. It's doubly impressive because she did it at such a (relatively) young age. She has quite the future in store.
The supporting cast is equally solid, but it's the smaller parts that really stand out. Desmond Harrington (Dexter) successfully eases slime as the creepy photographer. Keanu Reeves (River's Edge) has slightly more-than-just-a-cameo role as the sleazy landlord; a guy that is clearly scummy but for some reason likeable. And Christina Hendricks (Hap and Leonard) is deliciously delightful as the perfectly blunt agent that Jesse goes to.
The Neon Demon is the definition of a slow-burn movie. There are literally (or maybe figuratively, I didn't actually time it) minutes where no words are spoken and the story is being told through the camera's lens. For the most part, this is a-okay because Refn's eye for the shot is that damn effective, but it does come very close to dragging at times. However, all of this is made up for with its ending. I admit to yelling out, "HOLY SHIT!" at one particular scene, causing me to immediately to forgive and forget any problems with the pacing I had up until that point.
Charlotte said it much better in her review than I ever could when she said, "It's an arthouse horror movie, a stunning piece of modern, gothic cinema. It's warped, shocking and beautiful all at once. Visually, Refn has never been better." I couldn't agree with her more.
It would be remiss of me if I didn't mention the soundtrack. Both Drive and Only God Forgives have great soundtracks, but The Neon Demon's is exceptional. Cliff Martinez delivers more than a memorable score, but also music that perfectly complements the film.
Story-wise, this is a one-star movie at best. But with Refn's expert eye and Martinez's fantastic score, this is far, far, FAR better than it has any business being. It's a bit bitter sweet. You can clearly see (no pun intended) the type of film Refn is capable of making. I'm looking forward to the movie he makes when he's handed a just-as-impressive script.
Video and Audio:
When you have a filmmaker such as Refn behind the lens, you damn well better not mess up the video on home release, and Broad Green Pictures definitely got that memo because the picture is quite simply, gorgeous. There's a lot of color fighting for attention throughout The Neon Demon and it all pops splendidly.
The offered DTS-HD MA 5.1 track delivers bass, dialog and effects seamlessly, none of which overtakes any of the others.
- Audio Commentary with Director Nicolas Winding Refn and Elle Fanning
- Behind the Soundtrack of Neon Demon
- About Neon Demon
The commentary with Refn and Fanning is more of a conversation than a technical look at the film, and that's fine. There are pieces of trivia found here and there, but overall it's more conversational in tone than anything else.
The featurette "Behind the Soundtrack of Neon Demon" (5:09) is a too-short piece that centers on the film's wonderful soundtrack. Considering how terrific the music is here, it's a crying shame that more time wasn't spent on discussing it.
"About Neon Demon" (1:11) can be skipped altogether. It's nothing more than a short EPK. Pointless.