What I'm Watching: The Neon Demon
I'm busy working on tomorrow's big review, but I watched the latest Nicolas Winding Refn movie, The Neon Demon, and had some thoughts on the movie to share.
The movie follows Jesse, a 16 year old girl looking to become a model in California, and she sure has the looks for it. She starts out the movie quiet, shy, and unsure of herself, but everyone sees within her the potential she doesn't quite see. As the movie progresses, and she tries to navigate this hard, harsh, difficult, crushing world, she slowly comes around to the other side, and becomes full of herself, confident, and narcissistic. And it all ends in tragedy, as these sorts of stories about the hard life of celebrity often do.
Boy howdy, did I not like this movie. This is just NOT the sort of movie for me. The trailer was intriguing though, and there were a few good moments in it, but they were all at the tail end of a very long, slow movie. I seriously cheered, with 25 minutes to go, and things started actually happening. I could've done with a LOT less of the "Look how weird and creepy and horrible the life of a struggling artist is!" We all know this, it's a trope, one of the biggest tropes of a celebrity story. If they had dialed back the very long establishing stuff, and then moved up the tragedy at the back end, or even just laid more groundwork for where the movie went, I'd be more behind it.
But this is simply not a movie for me. I sat there for two hours not caring about anything that was going on, or the characters, for the most part. Jena Malone's character, Ruby, was the sole bright spot for me. She was a complex character, with a lot of texture to her, and her story, and who she was when she wasn't being a makeup artist on photoshoots, was very intriguing. Having her moonlight in a morgue, making the dead pretty again, was a fascinating other side to her life.
Elle Fanning as Jesse was also a good actress. I totally believed her in both sides of her character, the shy quiet, just off the bus version, and as she became more entrenched in the world, and more vain. I did genuinely feel for the character at times, and that's saying something.
But ultimately, this boils down to not being a story I'm interested in watching.
I simply DO NOT GET why Refn is such a big deal. Well, that's not quite true. I understand why HE is a big deal. He is genuinely a good director. Amazing, even. He has a great eye, uses colour amazingly well, and knows style like no one I've seen in this generation. This movie is stunning. The look is a visual feast for the eyes. His use of colour and how he moves the camera is top notch. I can't say enough about the visuals.
But he hangs them on stories I just don't care one iota about. Drive never engaged me, this looked better, and was better in the final moments. He makes great use of symbology and mood and a dreamlike, ethereal quality. Refn is an amazing director, making stories about uninteresting to me subject matter. Which is funny to me, because he's also the writer, so he's choosing to make this from the ground up.. It's a bit confounding to me, since I can clearly say just how good he is, but he's making movies I don't care about.
Spoiler alert! so back out now if you don't wanna know what goes on. The movie really only drew me in with Malone's character, and once it was revealed that she and her friends were performing arcane rituals for the usual vague promises of fame power. It does come outta nowhere though, and if it had been hinted at more, this might have been a more interesting ride. They don't even hint at the EXISTENCE of such dark rituals, until the very end of the movie and it's happening. It's a swerve out of nowhere, that feels like just a way to throw a curveball at the audience and confuse them. It still kinda works as is, but when the best, most engaging stuff in the movie comes in the final moments, it's a bit of a let down.
Neon Demon is visually stunning, and a treat to look at, but filled with a story that has no interest to me. I can't even say it's all style over substance, although that plays into it. The symbolism is there, the allegory, the dreamlike imagery actually does back up the story being told; like as Jesse becomes more and more vain and full of herself, she slips into a dreamlike sequence where she's kissing several versions of herself, showing how much she's falling down that road. If you enjoy this movie, more power to ya, but I'm gonna go watch The Mind's Eye...because this is apparently the week for me watching movies that are only aware of two colours!
It's not a bad movie, but it's just not the movie for me.