Nicholas Winding Refn”s The Neon Demon premiered to boos and catcalls at this year”s Cannes Film Festival, and based on everything I know about the Danish director/provocateur (who also directed Drive, Only God Forgives and Bronson), I suspect that”s the reaction he was going for. While it would be inaccurate to claim that critics either love or hate the film (there are a number of “C”-ish reviews in there), it takes a special kind of filmmaker to make a movie that can be deemed “absolutely beautiful” by one critic and “hot garbage” by another. There”s a lot of red and green on the movie”s Metacritic profile, is all I”m saying.
In case you”re unfamiliar, here”s the basic premise: aspiring model Jesse (Elle Fanning) moves to Los Angeles (not New York?), where her “youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.” Sounds good to me!
I can”t stress this enough: The Neon Demon is not a movie for everybody. If you aren”t a fan of adventurous, boundary-pushing filmmaking, you”re prooobably going to hate it. If you are, it might be one of your favorite films of the year! As The Telegraph critic Robbie Collin noted in his review: “When the film reaches its logical end point, Refn just keeps pushing, and eventually lands on a sequence so jaw-dropping… that all you can do is howl or cheer. The audience at Cannes weren”t sure which to go for. You might not be either.”
Take a gander at the unusually polarized response from critics below.
Jessica Kiang, The Playlist: “Spectacular, gross and delicious (so unsavory it”s almost sweet), the film is more proof of Refn”s mastery of his trash aesthetic and more fun than anything this indulgent and empty-headed has any right to be.”
Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times: “Languorously paced and literally dressed to kill, the movie is a corrosive attack on beauty – or at least our soulless, corporatized definition of the term – but it is also, above all else, a hypnotically beautiful object.”
Michael Roffman, Consequence of Sound: “This is a film predicated on voyeurism, and while it”s arguably another big ol” starefest from Refn, the viewer”s patience is earned with unquestionable tension made all the more palpable by its troubled protagonist.”
David Lewis, San Francisco Chronicle: “The narratively challenged film seems conflicted: It critiques our obsession with models and beauty and style, even as it obsesses about those very same things. There is a lot of flash, but little substance.”
Kevin P. Sullivan, Entertainment Weekly: “The dialogue, most of which is stilted philosophy about femininity and beauty, sounds like something your freshman-year roommate said and you learned to ignore.”
Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: “It's not that I can't buy the premise that the Los Angeles fashion world is producing a world of jealous models who suck the life out of each other by becoming vampires. That sounds reasonable. What I can't buy is that Refn has made a movie this lifeless and devoid of human interest.”
Giovanni Marchini Camia, The Film Stage: “The director has set out to make the most repellently misogynistic film imaginable, yet he”s disguised it as a postmodern feminist satire. By shattering every possible taboo, the film is supposed to be an attack against the very thing it represents. Really, though, any semblance of commentary is simply a posture for Winding Refn to cover his ass.”
Glenn Kenny, The New York Times: “The Neon Demon is hot garbage that dares you to call it offensive. In addition, it”s offensive.”
Rex Reed, New York Observer: ” Winding Refn can”t direct traffic, and his writing is so clumsy that the best line he can come up with is, 'Once you hit 21 in this business, you”re soon irrelevant.' Note to Fanning: Without better roles in saner films, the same is true for the movie business.”