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The Neon Demon (2016)

Broadgreen Pictures
Blu-ray Disc Released: 9/27/2016

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/12/2016

Full disclosure: I'm a huge John Carpenter fan. And yes, I do realize that it's brazen that from his earliest films, he has put "John Carpenter's" in front of the film's title. (Even when the film is the adaptation of a novel by someone else.) And yet, I have a huge problem with Nicolas Winding Refn placing his initials all over the credits of The Neon Demon. Yes, he directed and co-wrote the film, but what has he done to earn this sort of power. And yes, again, I realize how hypocritical that sounds. But, I feel justified with this opinion, as John Carpenter never made a movie as reprehensible as The Neon Demon.

16-year old Jesse (Elle Fanning) has come to Los Angeles to pursue a career in modeling. After having an amateur, Dean (Karl Glusman) take some photos, Jesse gets signed with an agency, and introduced to noted photographer, Jack (Desmond Harrington). While at a photo shoot, Jesse meets makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone), who is immediately nice to her, and catty models Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee). Jesse gets an important gig. Gigi and Sarah are jealous. Jesse is mean to Dean. Gigi and Sarah begin to act weird.

If you are wondering why the last few lines of that synopsis suddenly started to sound like a first-grade reading book, that's because The Neon Demon is oddly devoid of any real story. As the film opens, Jesse has already been in town for a period -- long enough to have met Dean and been photographed by him. We see her go through the motions of going to the agency, being photographed by Jack, meeting the other girls, having some odd interactions with Hank (Keanu Reeves), the manager at the motel where she lives, and then the finale happens. I can't believe that it took three people to write this, as this 2-hour movie only contains about 15 minutes of story.

But, The Neon Demon is not about story. The movie exists as an art project for Refn. First of all, he goes absolutely crazy with the colors in the film. Going far beyond the neon implication of the title, the movie is filled with reds, blues, greens, and more, as if Refn wants to take the look of Suspiria and run wild with it. Speaking of influences from other filmmakers, Refn attempts to adopt the pacing of a David Lynch movie, as the characters pause for several seconds before each line. This creates an incredibly awkward and choppy feeling. Lastly, Refn clearly intends The Neon Demon to be a grotesque fantasy film. In the first act, Jesse is taken to a party where, bathed in strobe light, she witnesses an odd piece of performance art (which is oddly shot from a distance, so we can't really tell what is happening). The second part of this is a scene from the third act which involves Ruby. I won't disclose what this scene entails, but I will say that this is the point where many of those who are still watching will turn the movie off. This scene reeks of desperation to be seen as edgy and controversial, but it simply comes off as tawdry.

The word which kept coming to mind while watching The Neon Demon was pretentious. The whole movie screams "Look at me!" and I feel that Refn's goal was to be shocking and controversial and draw attention to the visuals with little to know concern for the narrative. The film's metaphor concerning the world of modeling and how it treats models is incredibly heavy-handed and sloppily handled. This is the one place where Refn attempts to be somewhat subtle, but the outrageous scenes following this revelation negate any attempts at being subdued. Clearly someone put some work into the lighting and the costumes, and the movie is filled with familiar faces, but it's all a waste. This is one of the worst movies that I've seen in years. The only people who will be able to sit through this are 12-year old boys and those who have fooled themselves into thinking that Refn has something important to say.

The Neon Demon will make you rethink your deceased loved one's makeup on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Broadgreen Pictures. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no distinct grain and no defects from the source materials. As noted above, this is a very colorful film and the colors look fantastic here. The reds and blues nearly leap off of the screen, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The image has a nice crispness to it and the depth in the daytime scenes looks very good. The picture is rarely soft, lending a nice amount of detail. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audi 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The film is filled with intense music and sound effects, and these fill the surround sound speakers. The stereo effects show off good separation and the subwoofer hums during key scenes.

The Neon Demon Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Nicolas Winding Refn and Elle Fanning. "Behind the Soundtrack of The Neon Demon" (5 minutes) has Refn and Composer Cliff Martinez discussing the music of the film and what influences steered the sound. "About The Neon Demon" (1 minute) is a short EPK which contains various soundbytes from Refn and Fanning, where Refn refers to the movie as a "horror film". I think that he meant to say "horrible film".

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long