How The Neon Demon Saved Summer
"Why have sour milk when you can have fresh meat?"
This is not going to be a traditional review as usual in The Franchise Fatigue column, I want to talk about The Neon Demon and its role in the 2016 Summer schedule. The first part of this review will be about where my head has been over the summer and then I don't want to talk about The Neon Demon in terms of plot details but in terms of reactions, it’s role in cinema and experience.
This summer has been an utter slog for me when it comes to big screen releases to date; they've been a mixture of disappointing, atrocious, utterly baffling budgets as well as being disposable. Considering the summer season at the Box Office started in March and it hasn't even finished yet, we've still got Star Trek Beyond and Jason Bourne to go, it feels never ending. So let's make a list of what has come out so far and what my reaction has been.
BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE - A car crash of poor writing, tedious direction, bland characters, box ticking exercises and an endless tedious debate among fans about utter nonsense like box office totals and marvel buying critics.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR - A thoroughly enjoyable movie and after I had seen it once and spoke about it on the Filibuster podcast, I didn't need to see it or speak about it again. Disposable.
THE JUNGLE BOOK - The much hyped 'live action' adaptation left me bored and wondering how people were raving about this average adaptation. Totally forgettable.
X-Men: Apocalypse - A movie so utterly bland, poorly written, acted, cast and a total disaster, makes X3 look better!
ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS - A budget of $170 million for a sequel for which no one asked. A movie that reeks of contract renewals and there's no passion or excitement to be found at all.
WARCRAFT - One of the worst video game adaptations ever, so bad I debated walking out, what a waste of Duncan Jones' talent.
INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE - After a promising start, this movie displays zero imagination, atrocious CGI, actors who either can't act or are phoning in performances. There is no wonder why this film bombed.
TARZAN - With nearly a $200 million budget, this box office dud should hopefully have executives who throw money at unoriginal concepts out on the streets.
Thankfully between these movies, there's been some great small movies like Green Room, Everybody Wants Some!!, Sing Street, Mustang, Weiner and Suburra.
I'm so bored of these type of movies, I'm so glad that with my cinema pass I don't feel like I've wasted money watching these big box office movies. These blockbuster movies in these lists feel like a Fast Food chain meal, they're bloated, filled with fake garbage, utterly disposable and designed to appeal to so many people but rarely loved or remembered after wolfing it down.
Cinema discussions with these movies I find are often tedious and revolve around box office totals, rotten tomatoes, fans being entrenched and echo chambers online. That isn't talking about cinema; it now resembles a corporate boardroom. Many fans have traded in talking about movies and why they think it works or fails and instead are using math and ratings to do so. Discussions about these movies and their themes are just not exciting; the ideas within these movies in my opinion are on teen like levels. The writers and fans of the movies are presenting movies and bragging about their depth much like a student who has spent an hour studying a philosophy class and doing a 500 word essay. These thoughts, frustrations, and annoyances with the trends in the 2016 Summer Blockbusters have gone round and round in my head, I wanted and demanded more. However, I always knew The Neon Demon was on the horizon...
The Neon Demon is the latest film from Nicolas Winding Refn, the writer and director behind The Pusher Trilogy, Bronson, Drive and Only God Forgives. Refn is one of the most exciting and divisive filmmakers on the planet and I love his work. I go into Refn's movies knowing he will challenge me, play on my deepest urges and instincts, and leave me with a movie that I can reflect on and discuss with people. Refn's movies aren't like the tedious blockbuster debates, people will debate what they like and didn't by talking about the film and it’s themes; that's what true cinema debate is. Gone are the Top Trump style debates in favor of the sharing of ideas, meanings and personal responses. Knowing that a Refn movie is coming out is like trading in those Blockbuster fast food meals for fine wine and steak. So when I took my seat last night, I was ready for The Neon Demon to wash over me.
I am going to talk about my responses to this movie, I will briefly mention the plot but very little else about what you see and learn when you watch this movie. I want the reader of this, if you're debating seeing it, to go in pure and not burdened with plot expectations and what they might experience. This isn't a traditional review but a reflection on why this movie excited me; I suspect Refn would prefer it that way.
Elle Fanning plays a sixteen-year-old girl, Jesse, her body untouched by sex and cosmetic surgery; she's a natural beauty. Jesse now enters a world of high-end modeling, her success and innocence creates jealousy among the other models by this young girl. That's it; you're not getting anymore out of me.
The Neon Demon stimulated me in so many different ways and has not left my mind for twenty-four hours now; I didn't want it to end. The Neon Demon is a movie that doesn't hide that it wants to provoke not for cheap thrills but to challenge us. How often do we watch movies in the cinema that pander to us? Being shocked, disturbed and aroused by this movie makes it a primal experience. When you're pandered to, you're in a safe space and that's fine for family movies but as adults who genuinely love original cinema, then I want to be challenged. Refn is that type of director, I don't know where this 90 minute experience will go and that is intoxicating to me.
Nicolas Winding Refn is colorblind and his use of bright neon colors in many of his movies, create such a memorable and unique and visual experience. It's very self-aware hyper visual style and at times these stunning visuals matched with another incredible soundtrack from Cliff Martinez, resemble music videos. Refn, like Only God Forgives, has created a very loose story where the visuals and the audience’s interpretation define what you take away from it. Instead of shoving it down our throats, we are trusted as a mature and smart audience and allowed to invest our ideas and interpretations into this movie. It's so rewarding because I have read so many different opinions on the meaning of the movie, plot points and twists that are just as valid as any other. Creativity plants thoughts and reactions within you, how many times have you seen a film that's given you that?
This movie is a love letter to female talent in front and behind the camera in Refn's first movie with a female lead. Refn said he wanted to explore his own inner sixteen-year-old girl that he believes we all have and has used female talent to discover that. Elle Fanning captures that youthful innocence and delivers such a powerful performance for someone so young; she stands out in this world of beauty as someone who is honest and pure, so rare in Hollywood and the fashion industry. Jenna Malone puts in one of the bravest performances I've seen in a movie, she gives everything physically to create a truly memorable and unique character.
We'd all love to see more female representation behind the scenes and Refn has used cinematographer, Natasha Braier who has created an unforgettable look for this movie that will be the ultimate calling card. Mary Laws and Polly Stenham join Refn in writing this movie and Fanning was given influence in helping to craft and develop a very organic script that was always evolving during production. Refn should be applauded for creating amazing opportunities for female talent.
I cannot wait to see this movie and hear other people's opinions on the movie and their own reflections on it. I know when I discuss this movie; it's going to be about discussing it as a piece of original and challenge cinema. After eating so many Fast Food films, I was so happy to get proper and real cinema experiences and discussions, this is my steak and wine. This is a cinematic feast, it's art, it's an experience that rewards and provokes the viewer. Like it or loathe it, cinema is richer for original and unique films and we need to support these movies and encourage the money to spent on these films and not spending over $350 million on Tarzan and Alice in Wonderland.
WHERE TO SEE IT:
Still showing at cinemas in America but ending its run.
Wide release from July 8th in the UK.