• Neon Demon, The

    Released by: Broadgreen/Amazon
    Released on: September 27, 2016
    Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
    Cast: Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Desmond Harrington, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Alessandro Nivola, Charles Baker, Jamie Clayton
    Year: 2016
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    Jesse (Elle Fanning) is an aspiring model who has just completed her first photoshoot, a graphic portrayal of death and beauty, for would-be photographer Dean (Karl Glusman). Afterward, she cleans off the fake blood in dressing room and meets makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone). Ruby takes her to a party and introduces her to Sarah (Abbey Lee) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote), two models who have used plastic surgery to artificially enhance their looks, unlike Jesse. The next day Jesse meets with the owner (Christina Hendricks) of a modeling agency, who hires her but warns her to lie about her age.

    While on a date with Dean, Jesse refuses his sexual advances. When she returns to her room, she finds that it’s been ransacked and reports the crime to the hotel manager (Keanu Reeves), who discovers that the guilty culprit is a mountain lion. The manager tells Jesse she needs to pay for any damages incurred by the animal because, he believes, she left her door open.

    After a successful photoshoot, it quickly becomes clear that Sarah and Gigi are envious of Jesse’s beauty while Ruby is enthralled with her. When Jesse poses for a famous fashion designer, the enmity that her newfound ‘friends’ feel toward her grows. Weird incidents follow, including Sarah trying to drink the blood from Jesse’s wounded hand and what may be a sexual assault in a neighboring room.

    Fearful for her own safety, Jesse calls Ruby, who invites her to a mansion she’s allegedly house-sitting. There, Jesse rejects Ruby’s sexual solicitation, resulting in Ruby pleasuring herself in a most unwholesome manner elsewhere. When she returns home, Ruby finds a very different Jesse from the one she left, leading to an orgy of vampiric violence, bloodshed, and death.

    Filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn began his career in his native Denmark in the mid-1990s. His Pusher trilogy met with instant critical accolades, but his first venture into English-language filmmaking was met with considerably less enthusiasm. A second attempt, Bronson (2008), starring Tom Hardy, had a greater impact, though it was hardly a box office smash. After a foray into European history, Refn returned to English-language cinema with the much-lauded Drive (2011), starring Ryan Gosling and Christina Hendricks. Not only was the film a hit with critics, it also went over well with audiences. Refn’s follow-up, Only God Forgives (2013), however, was met with indifference. And that brings us to The Neon Demon.

    As much a metaphor for Refn’s own career as it is a statement on the modeling industry, The Neon Demon is a glossy, exquisite bacchanal driven by thumping tempo and magnificent imagery. As vapid and obvious as it is beautiful, it proves that you really can make a worthwhile film that’s style over substance. It wears its condemnation of the fashion industry (and, by extension, the film industry)—with its emphasis on beauty over humanity—on its forehead like a scarlet letter, and when it finally dissolves into a morass of Bathorian illustrations, it leaves one with the unsatisfying feeling that we’ve seen it all before. And we have. But if one concludes that the film was intended to be deep, he or she may be missing the point entirely. Just as Dario Argento’s classic Suspiria (1977) proved that a film need only be a stream of impressions connected by a common color scheme, The Neon Demon delivers a similar phantasmagoria. It may be hollow but it’s also hypnotic and hallucinatory, a razor-thin mirage populated by caricatures. It’s a model-eat-model world that murders innocence and then fucks you over, driven to dizzying heights by intriguing performances from Elle Fanning and Jena Malone.


    The Neon Demon arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Broadgreen, who has placed the rather lengthy film on a BD50 disc in 1080p high definition, with an MPEG-4 AVC encode and in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1. One needn’t look too closely to see the rich schemes in Elle Fanning’s flowing tresses, Jena Malone’s occult tattoos, Keanu Reeves’ creased face, and Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee’s silken dresses. It’s important to note the detail in the men’s faces versus that in the women’s; the female characters have a slightly softer look, approximating the look of photoshopped models in magazines. Refn utilizes a rich palette of colors, particularly reds and violets, and many of the background images are smooth and free of detail; this should not confuse viewers, as it’s a stylistic choice on the director’s part, not an issue with the Blu-ray. To further soften the image, the cinematographer even smeared her own forehead grease on the lens! Shot on hi-def digital video, the image sparkles, the perfect reflection of the world in which the film is set. Colors are bold, and very little grain has been added, just enough to give the movie a filmic look without compromising the picture quality.

    Just as important as the imagery is the sound. Refn has utilized lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 for the film’s English track and a DTS 5.1 for the Spanish-dubbed track. We are primarily concerned with the English track here. This is not a film that depends on dialogue to tell its story, though there are no issues with vocal intonations. Rather, it’s a film told in languorous visual compositions and striking music and sound effects. As such, Cliff Martinez’s score is presented as perfectly as the imagery. It powers the film, keeping it moving even when the pacing of the action would otherwise seem less than optimal. (Just a note: The Spanish track sounds louder than the English track.) English and Spanish subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired are also included. A commentary track in English DTS 2.0 features director Refn and star Fanning. The two are obviously sitting in a room together watching the film. Their remarks are natural and relaxed without coming across as too casual. When they go silent (which isn’t often), the film’s sound level is raised to fill the void. They talk about a number of things, from casting and performances to script and direction. Refn starts out by saying that he isn’t going to be giving away all the film’s secrets, only half the truth, and that’s a good thing. He leaves much of the interpretation of the film to audiences, though he touches upon character motivations and some directorial style choices. Considering that English is not the director’s first language, he speaks it very well, with no issues in pronunciation that make it difficult to understand what he’s saying.

    Two featurettes are provided. The first, titled “Behind the Soundtrack of The Neon Demon,” lasts a little over five minutes and contains interviews with Refn and composer Martinez. Refn refers to the “science fiction” feel of the music, and he’s absolutely correct. At times it recalls the score for Under the Skin (2013) but with a heavier disco/techno current. Martinez, on the other hand, rightfully points out that with each film, Refn pushes the music further into the foreground.

    The second feature, “About The Neon Demon,” runs a mere 1:12. It a promotional short that provides quick cuts from the film with interview snippets from Refn, Fanning, and Reeves.

    Unfortunately, a theatrical trailer is not included.

    The Final Word:

    The Neon Demon has been called a “fever dream,” an apt description for its stream of unhealthy, weirdly gorgeous imagery. The Blu-ray perfectly captures the film’s look and sound, adding a terrific commentary and a couple of extra features. While this may not be Refn’s best work, it is his most visual pleasing, and that says something.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the 1930s is currently available, with Horror Films of the Silent Era: Book One (1895-1915) and Book Two (1916-1929) due out later this year.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      I didn't much like this one, but it DID look great and reminded me of Suspiria.
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      I certainly didn't like the story; it's too obvious and in your face. I think Rfen triumphs in visual storytelling, which overcomes the film's other handicaps.
    1. cinemacide's Avatar
      cinemacide -
      Not his best but certainly entertaining (to nerds like me at least). Sort of saw it as Red Ridding Hood meets Dracula.