Monday, 18 July 2016

REVIEW - THE NEON DEMON (NICOLAS WINDING REFN)


'Pure cinema' is all very well, but it's what a filmmaker makes of such a model that makes their product more than that: very good. If Only God Forgives proved that Nicolas Winding Refn isn't very good at making anything of this model, yet is very good at the making of the model itself, here comes The Neon Demon to prove that he's not very good at finding anything to make of it anyway. It's a lacklustre fumble for a purpose that entirely eludes him, a misguided attempt at furthering his artistic agenda whilst proving himself to those who'd lambaste that agenda in its essence. The Neon Demon opens promisingly, with a seductive sequence that is pure style, if not 'pure cinema.' It's once Winding Refn wishes to use this style to actually say something that the film begins to falter; the insistent virtue of that style sustains interest, even if it's over-insistently applied, and frequently unfocused - an intersection between fashion editorial and cinematic art piece, the visuals often only emulate either, rather than replicating both. And our interest demands a whole lot more sustenance still - the point of true pulp is in the payoff, even if that payoff isn't of the expected nature. The Neon Demon pays up too little, too late, otherwise necessitating its audience to settle into material that repels the very intention of settling. It's a most stunning sheen to this slipperiest of surfaces, but it's of negligible value if it's not built upon something truly substantial. In quantity, if not in quality, the promise isn't met, not even by an unexpected payoff as opposed to an expected one. Sex and violence constitute key characteristics of the substance of pulp, and they're simply denied us too long in The Neon Demon. And it'd make for an impressive piece of 'pure cinema' were Winding Refn not so determined to find something to make of it. It's a shallow film, and only given that it appears uneasy with its shallowness, so too are we.