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Non-Review Review: The Neon Demon

Is it possible for a film set in the world of high fashion to be too superficial?

That is very much the crux around which Neon Demon pivots. Nicolas Winding Refn is a glorious stylish director with a strong visual sense and a provocative attitude. Thematically, his films tend to touch upon broad ideas like the correlation that exists between masculine identity and violence. It is familiar ground for anybody who has ever watched a film, followed a television show, read a book or even browsed a newspaper. Refn doesn’t necessarily do anything novel or compelling when it comes to his subject matter.

A cut throat industry...

A cut throat industry…

Instead, Refn offers a striking aesthetic that is lush and overwhelming. It is too much to suggest that Refn’s films would work just as well (or even better) with the volume turned down low. After all, Cliff Martinez’s scores are a key part of the appeal of Drive and Only God Forgives. More than that, the blunt metaphorical “nobody in the history of the world has ever talked like this” dialogue is very much part of the appeal. Characters in Neon Demon converse around one another, talking in abstracts and affectations. It is a pure pulpy delight.

At the same time, Neon Demon brushes up against its own limitations. When Refn draws on archetypal female characters, he seems to fall back on shallow sexist caricatures. “Are you food or are you sex?” one character asks young model Jesse early in the film. The movie suggests its own alternative (and sadly all too conventional) dichotomy. Refn’s female characters are reductive and crudely formed; just like his male characters. However, the reduction of the female characters inĀ Neon Demon is much more problematic than that of his male characters.

This business can murder.

This business can murder.

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My 12 for ’13: Only God Forgives & Neon Nightmares…

This is my annual countdown of the 12 movies that really stuck with me this year. It only counts the movies released in Ireland in 2013, so quite a few of this year’s Oscar contenders aren’t eligible, though some of last year’s are.

This is number 7…

Few films this year have stayed with me as vividly as the rich and disturbing visual and aural landscape of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives. It’s a decent into a neon hell, a world half-inhabited by the damned and stalked by demons. With Cliff Martinez’s pounding score still echoing through my head long after my last viewing, Only God Forgives is a haunting piece of cinema, a nightmare captured on digital.


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