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I’m a huge fan of Nicolas Winding Refn’s films thus far with VALHALLA RISING, DRIVE and ONLY GOD FORGIVES being my favorites. So when I heard that the man was going to embrace horror with his latest essay in trip out audio/visuals THE NEON DEMON (WATCH IT HERE), my dick got hard. It took me a while to get around to seeing it, but the impending Blu-Ray release (out on September 27, 2016) just gave me my shot. Now it took me 2 days to somewhat figure out my take this sucka cause as the end credits rolled I was still digesting. I got an idea now, but jolting down this pea-soup-vomit will seal the deal. It’s on!
For the NEON DEMON Refn was obviously inspired by 70’s Giallos (Suspiria and Inferno being the obvious ones) and the true story of Countess Elizabeth Bathory (who would bathe in virgin’s blood to retain her youth, they didn’t have Oil of Olay back then) was also most likely on his mind. So yeah, I dug that angle! At the end of the cracked neck though, the NEON DEMON was the kind of film that on the surface, it was what it was, but if you start digging and looking into its elements deeper than your average flick, there’s all kind of shit going on; some intentional, others, things you’ll probably make up for yourself that wasn’t intended (like my bud who thinks this is an allegory to Christ in the desert). It’s an open for interpretation genre party that’s for sure and as a fan of David Lynch and symbolic charged jamborees in general – that M.O. appealed to my sorry ass.
Refn went on to unravel his deconstruction of beauty (how one relates to it for themselves and how others react to it) using specific color motifs (blue, red, white… they all have meanings), LSD inspired lighting (all about the use of strobes), characters that represented different types of beauty (the two models and the makeup chick), some dabbling in the esoteric (the moon, the vagina triangle, or was it a Tri-Force, the f*ck knows?) while slapping in symbolism all over the place that only he knows for sure as to what it means (Mountain Lion anyone?). For me, my grey matter was all up in there after it ended, trying to find the deeper meanings within the countless double-meaning bombs (the dialogue was all about that) the movie dropped my way. I got a kick out of it! Now the question is, do you care to dig and try to decipher things after your watch? Is that your shtick? That’s up to you and what type of film-goer you are.
Acting wise; I felt that the cast did a fine job acting in a picture that had a different rhythm than the norm. Nobody was “normal” here. Think long pauses in between lines, lots of staring outwards, trapped in one’s thoughts. Some may be annoyed by this (and I can understand that), I on the other hand felt that it went hand in severed hand with the rest of the movie. It’s a very Lynch-ish way to go about one’s characters/dialogue and it worked for the type of picture this was. The fact that Elle Fanning (bold), Jena Malone (turned me on for some reason), a scary Keanu Reeves and the rest of the cast nailed it, was a big plus. Add to all that a trippy Goblin inspired synth score by the always reliable Cliff Martinez, unique & visually striking set designs, a compelling exploration of the themes of youth, beauty, narcissism and the corruption of innocence and a handful of WTF moments that had me sit up and take a swig of that ice cold beer, and you get an hypnotic and self indulgent (that’s not an insult, nothing wrong with that) celluloid trip out!
On the downside; when the ending came about; I was still craving more. After some thought I figured out why; Refn was too tame here; which was odd cause he’s not known to be a restrained filmmaker when it comes to the ugly stuff. The horror (or the nudity for that matter) was simply not pushed far enough to fully give his themes the weight and punctuation the gusto they needed to hit as hard as they should have. Two films that had similar stories come to mind SUSPIRIA and BLACK SWAN and both went “all out” when the timing was right, hence punching me in the gut. Here, all I got was love taps. But hey, that’s my opinion. Some peeps thought it was offensive – so they got what they needed out of it – I wasn't shocked enough. Moreover, I HATED not seeing what the bleep was going on during that “sex show” at the rave, party, club. What’s the point of having a scene like that roll out if the viewer can’t see jack or shit? Or maybe I missed the point…
So on the whole, the NEON DEMON appealed to my fervent (yes fervent, go with it) love of heightened audio/visual aesthetics, flicks with all kinds of hidden meanings and the tackling of potent socially relevant themes in a aloof and out of the box manner. I dug it the most, but it needed less art and more guts!