“Anything worth having hurts a little.” – The Neon Demon (2016)
So, what did I think of Nicolas Winding Refn’s A Very Giallo (But Not Actually As Giallo As I Was Hoping After That Blood and Black Lace Trailer) Black Swan? Er, I mean, The Neon Demon? (A title that, admittedly, I wish I had come up with before Winding Refn did…)
The short answer is that I felt like it was a lot of good moments, scenes, images, and ideas looking for a movie to inhabit and instead being tossed the bones of a bunch of tired tropes to hang themselves on. And if that sounds harsh, I don’t necessarily mean for it to, but I also don’t think it’s inaccurate.
The Neon Demon is an experience that is going to take some time to digest (rimshot), and I’ll once again paraphrase Guillermo del Toro when he said that watching a movie once is a flirtation, twice is a date. Though in this case I don’t know that I’m intrigued enough to ever go back for that date.
It’s a film that is already polarizing people, but it didn’t really polarize me. I neither loved it nor hated it. It looked good and sounded great, it had moments that really worked but overall it really didn’t. How much it works for you will likely depend upon how you react to this sort of thing. For some, it will be your jam, for others, you will completely hate it. Me, I’m just along for the ride.
Prior to watching this, my only experience with Nicolas Winding Refn’s filmography was Drive, which I liked, but not as much as everybody else did. I’m told that, if you liked his follow-up Only God Forgives, you’ll probably like The Neon Demon. One of these days I’m going to watch Only God Forgives, even though I don’t expect to like it, because its aesthetic looks very appealing. This is also emphatically true of The Neon Demon.
Going any further is going to require me to dip into some spoilers, which I will try to keep pretty mild. I’ve seen this movie described as “confrontational,” which is probably a good description to use, but it felt to me like it was trying way too hard to confront me, rather than actually having anything to confront me with. It doesn’t commit enough to its horror premise to really become a horror film, but also goes too far to be much of anything else, and so it’s left in this awkward in-between state that will work for some people and infuriate others.
I had a lot of problems with this movie, even while there were a lot of things that I liked, but I don’t think most of them were the problems that I was supposed to have. I kept thinking that it was headed in the direction of Black Swan‘s transformative body horror, and it kept stepping back. Which is fine, but what it opts to do instead is stumble pretty badly in its last legs and end up in places that are both absurd and laughable–no one walked out of my screening that I noticed, not even during that scene, but plenty of people did laugh, especially in the film’s closing moments. Whether that’s a feature or a bug will probably depend on you. And if this is the most evasive “review” ever, well, that’s just the kind of movie that The Neon Demon is…