The list of films that have been booed at the Cannes Film Festival is long and illustrious: Inglourious Basterds, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Antichrist, The Brown Bunny, The Tree of Life and even Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, which was jeered when it won the festival's Palme d'Or in 1976. Now you can add Nicholas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon to that list, which premiered to a chorus of “resounding boos” following its premiere at the festival on Thursday. Now I want to see it more.
One thing the above-listed films have in common is their utter audaciousness, from Antichrist's arthouse torture porn climax to Brown Bunny's infamous unsimulated fellatio scene between Chloe Sevigny and director/star Vincent Gallo. While I don't love all of them (Fire Walk with Me being a notable exception), they're certainly not boring — and there are elements in each that offer something wildly different from the norm. And I welcome “different,” whether I like the thing that's “different” or not.
Anyone who's familiar with my work on HitFix knows I have a particular fondness for horror films, particularly horror films from directors who dare to filter the genre's tropes through their own twisted perspectives. Because they're so personal, these so-called “auteur” offerings are inevitably polarizing (witness the hugely-divisive reactions to David Robert Mitchell's It Follows and Robert Eggers' The Witch from the last couple of years), and yet love them or hate them, they inevitably stick in the mind far longer than any Insidious or Paranormal Activity ever could. Those are the kinds of films that make the genre worth covering, and from everything I've read out of Cannes, The Neon Demon sounds like a worthy addition to the arthouse-horror tradition. Here's a sampling of responses out of the festival that have me virtually salivating:
The Neon Demon got exactly the reception I'm sure Refn was hoping for. Audience members literally shouting abuse at the screen #Cannes2016
– Robbie Collin (@robbiereviews) May 19, 2016
The Neon Demon is totally off the boil. Wacky. Insane. Completely cuckoo. And I'm in love with it.
– Joe Utichi (@joeutichi) May 19, 2016
THE NEON DEMON is MULHOLLAND DRIVE meets “Freedom 90” meets epilepsy #Cannes2016
– Kyle Buchanan (@kylebuchanan) May 19, 2016
The Neon Demon: Refn”s cannibal horror is a visually striking, darkly comic, utterly superficial descent into supermodel hell. #Cannes2016
– Total Film (@totalfilm) May 19, 2016
According to guy next to me, the Neon Demon heckler yelled TRASH! in Spanish. #Cannes2016
– Nigel M. Smith (@nigelmfs) May 19, 2016
THE NEON DEMON: Horror-satire about beauty as power source, precious gem, root of all evil. Best not to take too seriously. #Cannes
– Tim Grierson (@TimGrierson) May 19, 2016
THE NEON DEMON: slick with blood and glitter paint, Refn denounces superficiality with superficiality. A gorgeous hypocrisy I'm unopposed to
– Charles Bramesco (@intothecrevasse) May 19, 2016
“Totally off the boil”? “Completely cuckoo”? “Slick with blood and glitter paint”? “Descent into supermodel hell”? Count me in! The few formal reviews published so far have been similarly enticing, with Variety's Owen Gleiberman stating in his altogether mixed assessment: “Beauty mingles with mangled flesh, and each fastidiously slick image seems to have come out of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me or The Shining or a very sick version of a Calvin Klein commercial.” Telegraph critic Robbie Collin, meanwhile, called it “depraved” (and not necessarily in a bad way).
For all I know, The Neon Demon will enrage me just as much as it did that Spanish heckler, but I'm all right with that. As much as Refn's last film Only God Forgives confounded me and occasionally tested my patience, there are moments and scenes (particularly one scene) that have burrowed themselves deeply into my psyche. Refn imbued that film with a dreamlike, often nightmarish, quality that I haven't managed to completely shake, and I'll take that feeling over the dispensable buzz of a serviceable-but-unimaginative crowd-pleaser like The Conjuring any day of the week. The horror genre is supposed to be transgressive, and we need more movies like The Neon Demon — hecklers be damned.
The Neon Demon hits U.S. screens on June 24.