J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Refn’s Neon Demon

These models have practically zero percent body fat, but they can still produce plenty of body horror. That’s “horror,” as in scary movies. If you’re looking for vicarious thrills and chills, a Nicolas Winding Refn joint really isn’t for you, but if you want to gawk at lurid strangeness, the Danish director delivers more than ever. There are indeed dire consequences in store for a small town catwalk ingénue, who descends into the darkly sexualized, increasingly surreal fashion world in Refn’s Neon Demon (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Fresh off the bus from Bumbletucky or wherever, Jesse immediately falls in with Ruby, a conspicuously interested lesbian makeup artist and her two evil blonde model pals, Gigi and Sarah—or is it Sarah and Gigi? Much to her new model frienemies’ shock, Jesse is immediately signed by a high-power agency and starts booking what they consider “their gigs.” Her boss admits she is raw and undeveloped, but she just has “the Look.”

Within the context of the narrative (such as it is), Elle Fanning’s Jesse is a sixteen-year-old not really passing for nineteen. However, she looks like a fourteen-year-old zonked out on Nyquil. If that “Look” revs your engine, you should probably be on some sort of registry.

Regardless, guys seem to swoon over her like she is the second coming of Marilyn Monroe. That includes the loyal Dean, who follows her around like a neutered hound dog and Hank, the predatory junkyard dog who manages the fleabag Pasadena motel she is still staying in after being signed to a modelling contract by Mad Men’s Christine Hendricks, one of the few women in the film who does not look like a malnourished heroin addict.

There is some creepy tension and some bat-scat lunacy in Neon, but there are also plenty scenes fixated on Jesse as she bites her lip and stares into her navel. Frankly, it is about a focused as Only God Forgives (meaning not very), but it lacks the electrifying presence of Vithaya Pansringarm. Perversely, it is Keanu Reeves who makes the strongest impression as Hell’s own Motelier. He is so unsettling, Refn should have called an audible and rearranged the film into a more conventional Bates Motel-style horror movie.

Refn being Refn, he frequently bombards the audience with barrages of tripped out imagery. Some of it is admittedly quite weird and original, but the film needs a more solid foundation for his regurgitated subconscious to wash over. It is just not enough to be subversive and out there. There also needs to be a there there. Not recommended, Neon Demon opens this Friday (6/24) in New York, at the Angelika Film Center.

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