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Monday, 31 October 2016

The Current Cinema - Barrie Pattison tracks down Nicholas Winding Refn's NEON DEMON

Neon Demon, Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn, France/UK/USA, 2016. Screened in competition at Cannes. 117 minutes

When a film that is getting mainstream showing round the planet turns up as a Dendy Newtown exclusive, you've got to wonder what's happening.

Well in the case of Nicolas Winding Refn's THE NEON DEMON, I've got to reluctantly suggest what's happening is the exercise of good taste. I like Refn's DRIVE and pretty much nothing else he did.

The connection between fashion photography and ultraviolence is not new to movies - think THE EYES OF LAURA MARS or giallo thrillers.

This one starts out looking like an up market extension of the cycle, kicking off with
young (plausibly sixteen -
 Christina (Mad Men) Hendricks' one scene is about a bogus parental consent form) Elle Fanning laid out on a coach, throat cut. Turns out it’s a photo shoot for Karl Glusman whom she contacted through the Internet. Hendricks warns her about these and the session doesn’t run to a shower with her needing Make-Up girl Jena Malone’s wet ones to get the goo off.

The photoshoot opening, Elle Fanning
The film’s strongest element is it’s brooding menace which turns up at Keanu Reeves (!) seedy motel, with it’s clanging iron office door and red “Motel” sign.  Or there is in the party to which Malone invites her, or the shaven headed photographer eying Elle before they get the “show” of a girl appearing to be suspended in mid air.

Of course our heroine has “the deer startled by the headlights” look, like the character in CAFE SOCIETY. She is an immediate success after her shoot - daubed with gold paint and “Take off your clothes” - though the film’s only nudity comes later and is totally unerotic.

Established models Bella Heathcote & Abbey Lee (Hollywood decadence has an Australian accent now), go on about being finished at twenty one, the work they have had done (“You say that as if it were a bad thing!”) and seethe with jealousy.

After semi abstract sessions with the divided triangle where Elle licks her mirror
reflection, plot such as it is has Elle breaking up with young Glusman, though he pays off the damages Reeves demands for the cougar rampage in her room and, now glamorous, preferring the company of her peer group, where the photographer humiliates one girl by a comparison with her manufactured look 

When someone tries to break into her motel room, moving on to the 13 year old next door, Elle flees to Malone at the house sit where the make up girl proves to be a lesbian necrophile and our heroine finds herself menaced at dawn near the empty pool.

The film moves beyond yuck into a c’mon now ending, gross and naive, not redeemed by its stylish elements.

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