The Neon Demon – Nicolas Winding Refn
I am hesitant to say that I like The Neon Demon. I not only enjoyed watching it, but fell under its spell a little… It is easy on the eye and technically excellent – to be expected from an auteur like NWR. However, once you look beyond the magic of its score, visual design, and editing to narrative and characters it is not only lacklustre, but problematically regressive.
Bizarre portrayals of women (by men) is nothing new, but it gets even more interesting when they concoct imagined female relationships. The characters and their conversation feel as if they are born from a lazy mind – 2D is the word. They lack texture and substance, and are ultimately fantasist. Simple – jealous or innocent – women hungry for sex or beauty or youth or recognition by men, of course. The fact it is co-written by 2 women leaves me at even more of a loss. Between them, particularly playwright Stenham, and the skill of NWR, I want better. Plot and people to match up to the innovative and rich design. Not a bunch of skinny white bitches who say nothing or spew cliches.
There is an argument that it is a commentary on this ugly side of beauty, and what better way to express that than a horror film set in the modelling industry? But thats so cliched it hurts. The characters might do ugly things, be in ugly situations, but everybody is perfectly presented, visually seductive, all the time. It extends to the men too – Keanu Reeves is a pretty good-looking and inoffensive villain. His demeanour and acts do not live up to his role as a predator and child rapist. It makes his actions seem casual, borderline inconsequential. And models who’d cannibalise their greatest threat, gorging on beauty as opposed to starving for it, isn’t shocking but trite – albeit visually effective.
And all that being said I was transfixed by the colours, costumes, locations unfurling over 2 hrs. It saddens me that films succeed in seducing us with a limited idea of beauty and women. These sorts of portrayals, created in film and fashion, are massively detrimental and destructive in the real world, projecting a fake, unrepresentative idea of how we should look and behave.