Combustible Celluloid
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With: Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Jena Malone, Abbey Lee, Bella Heathcoate, Desmond Harrington, Karl Glusman
Written by: Nicolas Winding Refn, Mary Laws, Polly Stenham
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent content, bloody images, graphic nudity, a scene of aberrant sexuality, and language
Running Time: 118
Date: 06/24/2016

The Neon Demon (2016)

3 Stars (out of 4)

If Looks Could Kill

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This exquisite nonsense from director Nicolas Winding Refn, best known for the excellent Drive, has very little substance — it's not exactly art — but it does have plenty of style and playful tension. Drawing inspiration from David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Brian De Palma, and others, The Neon Demon is a variety of surfaces and reflections, characters looking and being looked at. It purports to explore the nature of beauty, while itself trying to be beautiful. However, it really doesn't dig much deeper than that.

In the modeling world of Los Angeles, small-town, fresh-faced Jesse (Elle Fanning) is a fast-rising star. Surrounded by chiseled women that have undergone surgery to make their bodies and faces more "perfect," Jesse has a natural quality that draws photographers and fashion designers to her. A young shutterbug (Karl Glusman) tries to date her, and a makeup artist, Ruby (Jena Malone), tries to befriend her, but there are always strings attached. Two model friends of Ruby's (Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee) are wary of Jesse, mindful that they could begin losing jobs to her. Finally, the manager (Keanu Reeves) of Jesse's hotel gets out of hand, Jesse calls on Ruby. But everything leads up to an incident of unexpected violence.

The Neon Demon is filled with crazy, breathtaking moments, such as a mountain lion suddenly appearing in Jesse's room, a blood-soaked photo session, a lights-out photo session, or a strobe-lit performance at a party. It all leads up to a shocking, giddily disgusting conclusion that doesn't exactly complete the thesis, but is at least memorable. The cinematography is always dreamily vivid and an electronic score by Cliff Martinez frequently sends the images floating off into ecstasy.

Broadgreen's Blu-ray release sports a really gorgeous picture, with sharp, pulsing sound... a great way to show off your home system. It includes a commentary track by director Refn and star Fanning, which is looser and more entertaining than I might have guessed (we learn that the DP used her own forehead oil to fog up the lens). There are two featurettes, a six-minute one on composer Martinez, and another, "About The Neon Demon" that runs just over a minute.

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