There were four of us in the theater when the film began. This isn’t terribly surprising considering that I live in a small town and that it was a weeknight. Hell, it was a bit of a shock that The Neon Demon was playing at all, and that I wasn’t completely alone in the theater to begin with. Only two of us made it to the end of the film. This isn’t to pat myself on the back for sticking it out or for having the presence of mind to have actually enjoyed it, but rather to say upfront that it’s just that kind of movie. Fraught with abstraction and committed to a certain level of opacity, The Neon Demon both is and is not a high-fashion horror film. Much as Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive is and is not an action film and Only God Forgives is and is not a crime drama, The Neon Demon tickles the horror film part of the brain while consistently defying that easy categorization. It’s a trick that Refn is particularly adept at and it allows for something that looks and feels quite superficial at first glance to achieve a remarkable level of insight and depth. This is the story of a young woman fresh to L.A. intent on making it big in the modeling world. It’s a tale you’ve heard dozens of times across various media and all the archetypes are here: the predatory photographer, the bitchy competition, the friend that just really wants to help, the genius designer in search of a muse who can make or break it all for our protagonist and of course the genuine love interest. Refn stacks up tropes like firewood and takes his sweet damn time setting them ablaze. But when the heat comes, it is a bonfire to behold. In the buildup we are treated to some of the most gorgeous cinematography I’ve seen this year, brilliant crystalline colors set against pitch black tone, characters awash in strange light. The film is careful in its depiction of women, particularly as they are being photographed or walking a runway, to avoid the lens reflecting a typical male gaze. There is little to leer at here for a film so focused on the idea of feminine beauty. We are drawn in to the perspective of our protagonist in such a way that the stark and sterile spaces she inhabits for her work feel like increasingly alien landscapes. With her experience as our filter, this world becomes an endlessly dark and mystical place, dangerous to a fault yet also capable of making her wildest dreams come true. Photo shoots become places of transformation, the runway a transcendental rite of ascension. The camera and the presentation of the story force us to believe in this power, as well as in the power of our protagonist’s beauty, a thing so pure and rare that it is the only commodity that matters to this world. By framing this all in unexpected ways, the cliché fairy tale is perpetually subverted. This occurs in small ways at first, with odd bursts of violence or scraps of recondite dialogue, all leading to an utter eruption in the final act. The trite story twists in upon itself, Narcissus-like. The flat performances, roundly criticized by others, seem a perfectly thought-out effect in context. The bewildering presence of Keanu Reeves whose character may be the most grounded of all present, is yet seemingly the most inconsequential. The Neon Demon is a film that delights in presenting questions it has no intention of answering, of telling you a story you only think you’ve heard before. It’s a work of pure ego, but entirely aware of that and as such it manages to be of substance as well. If I’ve avoided specifics, it’s for a reason. Those moments the film has to offer you should be encountered with as little forewarning as possible. The less you know, the easier it is to let your thoughts wander where they are pushed and pulled, whether via the path of your own assumptions or led gingerly into the darkness by the director’s own hand. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Raul Reyes Good read! No joke, there were only four people in my theatre as well. I think we are used to stories being told with questions being answered, but it’s perfectly ok to not have that sometimes. It’s more about the feeling we get, and with great cinematography and fantastic music, thinking should be avoided.