Nicholas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon is a triumph of style over substance. The narrative may be thin, but the film atones for this with its sumptuous imagery…
Jesse moves to Los Angeles with the dream of becoming a model. Her youth and beauty are an appeal to those working in the industry. However, Jesse’s appearance also captures the eyes of those with more nefarious plans…
Following on from Only God Forgives, director and co-writer Nicholas Winding Refn latest also favours imagery over dialogue in his latest film. Dialogue and narrative take a backseat to visual engorgement in The Neon Demon. The film has overtones of a rock opera in its thematic style and delivery.
The Neon Demon begins as something of a cautionary tale of narcissistic folly. Young and inexperienced, Jesse begins her modelling career with little knowledge of the pitfalls of the industry. There is danger all around for the protagonist, which manifests symbolically as well as physically. The film ends up in a much darker, and absurdist, place than the opening third betrays. Refs turns the symbolic into the literal as the film progresses. The preoccupation with youth and beauty is played out to horrifying effect.
Cliff Martinez’s score is excellent. The music really compliments the tone of The Neon Demon. Production design is superb, crafting a distinctive look for the film. Rein’s film works in contrasts; the innocence of the Hollywood Hills scene is a distinct contrast to the final scene, in composition, sharpness, colour and tone. Performances in the film are stilted, but this is seemingly deliberate. Elle Fanning is well cast as protagonist Jesse. She shares some of the film’s most natural scenes with Karl Glusman’s Dean.
There are small laughs to be found in the absurdity of it all. For the most part, however, The Neon Demon is a strangely engaging film. Allowing for the absurd and the risqué, the film is a worthwhile endeavour for the style alone.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s revenge thriller Only God Forgives is a masterclass in immersive filmmaking.
Julian runs a boxing club, which is a front for a drug-smuggling operation. When Julian’s brother is killed, Julian is expected to find his killer and exact revenge. The pressure is heightened with the arrival of Julian’s mother, baying for blood…
Only God Forgives is light on both plot and dialogue. This coupled with the emphasis on style and atmospherics makes the film immediately comparable to Winding Refn’s last film Drive. The flimsiness of plot is not a problem, however, as any lack is compensated by the pervasive atmosphere.
There is a sense of tribalism to the whole of Only God Forgives. Themes of revenge and accountability reign supreme. Nicolas Winding Refn does not hand these to the audience on a plate. Exposition is limited in Only God Forgives; viewers are left to come to their own conclusions about characters and their motivations.
Whether intentionally or not, Only God Forgives appears unmistakably Lynchian. The cutting from violence to song and the blurred reality give the film a surreal edge. This is a big part of what makes Only God Forgives so absorbing.
The violence in the film exemplifies the barbarism of the story itself. Some of the most violent scenes are difficult to watch. This will not be a surprise to viewers who have seen Drive.
Only God Forgives is highly stylised. The art direction is fantastic, using a limited palette to offer memorable imagery. The use of red and artificial lighting is key to the whole appearance of the film. Composition is exemplary, and the direction is superb. Sound is also used to great effect, generating an uneasy and burgeoning atmosphere. Cliff Martinez’s score is great.
Performances are in-keeping with the overall style of the film. Ryan Gosling and Vithaya Pansringarm were obviously directed to maintain an expressionless countenance which mirrors the mood of proceedings. Kristin Scott Thomas is marvellous playing the grotesque Crystal.
Only God Forgives may frustrate a minority, but most will find the film engrossing and rewarding.