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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 in Neon Demon is much more problematic than that of his male characters.

This business can murder.

This business can murder.

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