Here’s a peek behind the scenes. In almost every instance, I write up the first two or three paragraphs of these posts before I see the movie. Those paragraphs usually just deal with my thoughts and expectations going in and getting those typed up first speeds things up a little bit after I see the movie. I always reread what I’ve written and edit, if I feel like I need to after the movie. But usually, I get a head start.
Not this time.
I had so little of a clue as to what to expect from The Neon Demon that I couldn’t even write up a pre-viewing intro. I wasn’t even sure what genre this film was going to fall into. And after seeing it . . .
I still don’t.
The Neon Demon is the latest effort from director Nicolas Winding Refn, probably best known for the Ryan Gosling vehicle Drive from 2011. That film was a dark character study on what motivates a person to go to extremes. The Neon Demon is slightly more impenetrable.
There is an unquestionable message behind Demon. And there is plenty of symbolism to drive that home, all centering around how women are the tools of a male-driven society. Okay, no problem. I’m all for subtext in film. But there has to be an initial context for the subtext to be under.
Instead, what we get is an exercise in ego. Refn clearly thinks highly of himself and, again, that’s not a problem in and of itself. If someone doesn’t believe they’re good at what they do, then they shouldn’t be doing it. But it does become a problem when a director constructs a film in such an extremely personal way that the audience and everyone else who worked on said film are left on the outside looking in.
And that’s what happens in The Neon Demon. I asked myself while watching the film who the primary target audience is and the answer is pretty clear: Nicolas Winding Refn. The aforementioned subtext is blatantly more obvious than what actually occurs on the film’s surface. And the entire film has a tone of hostility and discomfort, which is admittedly appropriate due to the content and story, but also oddly self-fulfilling as Refn is so concerned with making the film artsy that he neglects his primary objective of storytelling.
What’s really a shame is that the solid and hard work of everyone else involved in the production is overshadowed by Refn’s selfish presentation. Even the cast and art departments, whose contributions can’t be hidden away, are mired down in the fact that the audience has to exspend its energy wading through Refn’s mucky waters and therefore can’t give the rest of the film the attention and respect it deserves.
The film, I think, is being marketed as horror. But that’s misleading. It takes so long to get to the point of the narrative that, by the time it does, it’s over. And I was left thinking that I watched a whole lot of nothing masquerading as film.
Refn wants to be David Lynch and he wants The Neon Demon to be his Mulholland Dr.. But while Lynch has his own unique, disturbing style, similar to what we get here, he always prioritizes the art over the artist. Refn even includes his initials under the title of the film during the opening credits. That says enough to me.
If you want to see The Neon Demon, see it. If you’re on the fence, I urge you to see The Shallows or The Conjuring 2, instead. Those are thrilling, well-made films with the audience in mind. The Neon Demon is a pretentious, self-fellating ego trip designed to satiate the director’s sense of security.