Nicholas Winding Refn makes what can best be described as modern art. The film that brought him to the attention of mainstream moviegoers was Drive, although he has a number of credits to his name before then. This is by far his most well known, and well liked directorial effort. Next up was Only God Forgives, which was much more divisive, and far fewer people have seen. His third major release is The Neon Demon, and while he’s currently at about a 50/50 hit ratio, this could prove to be either his making, or his downfall. With a stylish trailer and a good cast, as well as the promise of a look at the seedy underside of the modelling industry, this could be his most accessible, and possibly his best film yet.
Jesse is an aspiring model who’s just moved to LA. She got some amateur photos taken by a man she met on the internet, and has suddenly found that everybody wants a piece of her. She’s booking every job she goes for, and everyone seems to love her, but that love quickly turns to jealousy as the dark side of the modelling industry starts to take it’s toll on her.
This film starts out alright. The first half hour or so is fairly interesting, although it is quite up itself. But then things start to go wrong. When it’s trying to be serious and important, it’s actually getting worse and worse. A lot of the shots are well composed, and would make nice single frames, but the story and characters they’re depicting become increasingly frustrating to watch.
The lack of interesting characters who act in increasingly unusual ways definitely drags The Neon Demon down, but it’s the last half hour or so of the film that really pulls it into exceptionally bad territory. It’s meant to be a dark and realistic depiction of an industry that definitely has some shady practices, but instead of making an interesting study or even an exposé of sorts, it goes down a route that’s impossible to believe.
By the time the end of the film rolls round, the shark has truly been jumped, with things happening that are purely there to shock audiences. The problem is that with characters that are so difficult to like and a story that goes in such questionable directions, you just want the film to be over. You realise that Nicholas Winding Refn is the kind of writer and director that makes films for himself and not audiences when his name comes up in the credits three times before anyone else.
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