Nicolas Winding Refn has made quite the name for himself over the years in both Hollywood and around the world. Most notably, for his directing of the Ryan Gosling film Drive, which I’ll preface this review with, is the only other film of his I have seen. Now, he brings us the very colorful The Neon Demon which released last week on Blu-ray. Every site lists it as a horror which is why I am including it into our 31 Days of Halloween feature, but truthfully in that aspect it was very lacking until the very end. Consequently, I’d put it more into a psychological thriller category if I have to give it one.
The Movie Itself (3/5)
Our film starts off with young and beautiful Jesse (Elle Fanning) who has seemingly just arrived into Hollywood and is looking to become a model. She starts off small, doing a photo shoot for a young photographer who is helping her get some pictures together to bring to agencies. This is where we meet Ruby (Jena Malone), the makeup artist. She apparently knows everyone and does work for this “no name awful” photographer (he does have a name, it is Dean) to the biggest, brightest, and best. A man named Jack. He was a bright young detective in the Miami police department, back then he went by Joey, but he gave it all up once he found his true calling as a big time Hollywood photographer.
Ruby takes a shine to Jesse and whisks her off to a party/club with her model friends. They don’t seem to particularly like Jesse. We follow Jesse’s excursions through Hollywood and we see her meet with top talent agent Roberta Hoffman and instantly get signed because she has that “look and something special” even with her crappy photos taken by Dean. If you are a fan of Ms. Hendricks and you see her as high as second billed on certain listings for the film, please don’t watch for her as you will no doubt be disappointed by her 2 minutes of screen time. At least if you are a fan of Keanu, you might be more pleased. He is Hank, the cantankerous motel owner that is angry at Jesse for leaving the screen door open and letting a mountain lion loose in her motel room. He has a few more scenes and is always a joy to watch for me. It’s a little puzzling why he took a smaller role when he obviously can be the star in many films, but I suppose it is some of these smaller parts that adds to Keanu’s mystique and charm.
As the film continues, we see Jesse go on some more auditions, she meets Jack. Just after we find out she is 16, we get to the scene where he strips her naked and uses his hands to cover her in gold paint for the shoot. It feels like that scene is added to make the audience uncomfortable, but the way it is shot with the dead pan look and monotone of Jack it almost just feels like business as usual. Jesse never comes off as a scared, doe eyed, fresh faced, new girl as she is supposed to be. She is clearly conceited and has probably had people tell her she is beautiful her whole life. Herein lies the rub of the film, it makes it extremely devoid of any tension and discards any would be emotional investment from the viewer. I simply did not care about Jesse at any point in the film. I am fine with films having no like-able characters, but when it seems to be the basis of the narrative to invest the viewer in this person, it makes the film fall flat.
31 Days of Halloween Trivia:
- Cliff Martinez and Nicolas Winding Refn third film working together.
- Elle Fanning was 16 years old when the film was shot. She was 18 years old when the film premiered.
Visuals/Picture Quality (5/5)
In a previous interview Nicolas Winding Refn describes how he can only see color on the extremes and that a lot of the duller colors become grey. This is probably the reason for a lot of the vibrant colors throughout the film and is certainly a strong point. The palate encompasses the full rainbow and really shines and pops when needed, but is subdued and drab when appropriate like the motel scenes. Clarity is crisp and clear and there is nothing really bad to say about the transfer. It’s exceptional all the way around and easily is a fantastic reason to get this on Blu-ray.
Score/Audio Quality (4/5)
The score is an interesting one. It certainly feels like old school 70/80’s electronica and has a Sci-Fi feel to it. The composer even discusses that in the special features. To me it is largely hit or miss, not so much as individual tracks, because I think most work well, but more with how it’s fits with the film and visuals. In the club and runway scenes the score would elevate everything going on but in others it feels out of place. The quality however is excellent. The 5.1 is used well and comes out of all channels with some kick. Dialogue is very crisp and clear and you can hear everything nicely.
Special Features (2/5)
Behind the Soundtrack of The Neon Demon (5:08) The director and his composer Cliff Martinez talk about the importance of the music in film. Cliff also talks about how the more they work together Nicolas want his music to be even more into the foreground and less or a support.
About the Neon Demon (1:12) Just a short trailer with some of the cast talking about the film. It does contain spoilers.
Audio Commentary with Director Nicolas Winding Refn and Elle Fanning (1:57:42) Elle Fanning’s first commentary experience. Nicolas talks a lot about shooting the film on a budget, including getting crew members into some scenes because they couldn’t afford actors for some parts. They also talk about their first meeting and wanting to work with each other. It is strange to hear a director talk about what they originally wanted for some scenes and then going with the opposite when it is much cheaper. They also go into quite a bit about how Elle was only sixteen when filming and the challenges that presented with some of the shots and being conscious of how she would be perceived. Without spoiling the film, the most interesting part was when the director talks about a scene with Ruby and Jena Malone’s performance. Most of the film was shot chronologically except for a scene near the end with Ruby they shot in the first weeks. Due to how much he liked the scene, he changed the whole ending around and made it completely different than was originally intended.
- Non Eco-Case
- Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
- English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- Spanish: DTS 5.1
- English SDH
Runtime 118 Mins
The Neon Demon is certainly a curious film that seeks to immerse you into a world of fashion, beauty, and narcissism. It would be interesting to see how the film would have played out if Nicolas Winding Refn did not change so many things due to budgetary concerns and also completely change the ending after filming had already began. It seems like he has a lot of film knowledge and tries to use that in his own movies, but fails to understand what made the original scenes great. If you are already a fan of his work, then you know what you are getting and will probably be pleased. It is a gorgeous film and now I wonder what it would look like on my 4K set with some HDR. There is an Ultra HD version from Germany which is region free (as all UHD’s are) that may be worth importing for fans that have the setup. For those that are not familiar with the director, The Neon Demon may be a rental at best although the Blu-ray presentation is top notch so at least get that version.