This was a special preview screening just a couple of weeks after the film premiered at Cannes – the UK release is not for another month – so well done to HOME for securing not just the preview, but also the presence of director Nicolas Winding Refn for the post-screening chat.
Firstly, to the film. During the brief introduction, Jason Wood (HOME’s director of film) commented that as long as we were familiar with some of the director’s earlier work, then we knew what to expect.
And to a great extent, this was true, although expecting the unexpected is also part of NWR’s work. He is (and enjoys being) a provocative director; one who makes no apologies for his creations – they are what they are, the audience either goes with, or doesn’t.
In this case, a lone young girl (played to perfection by Elle Fanning) gets a foot on the ladder as a model, and becomes the focus for predators of all kinds, and also is on the receiving end of some envy and nastiness from her rivals. The dog-eat-dog world of fashion in Los Angeles is most definitely on show, but to say any more would be giving too much away, as it’s better not to know.
The first two-thirds build up a palette of vacuous beings with nasty streaks and an obsession for beauty, and there are mirrors everywhere – OK, perhaps some of the imagery is a little on the nose, but for me that sits happily in the Refn kitsch category. And then the final third is where it just goes a bit … well … batshit crazy to be honest. You can kind of see it building in hindsight, but I definitely had a couple of “he’s not actually going there … is he?” moments towards the end.
It’s beautifully shot (cinematography by Natasha Braier), has gorgeous credit sequences, and of course has the most amazing soundtrack courtesy of Cliff Martinez. I don’t think ‘enjoy’ is the right word, but despite the craziness towards the end, it was a good watch. I have a feeling though that if you loved the craziness, then the opening half might cause a little restlessness.
NWR duly appeared for a Q&A session after the screening, and he’s a great subject. I have seen him in one or two TV interviews being a little abrasive with his answers, but that must reflect on the quality of the questions he had been asked – here he was in fine form, having to be forcibly dragged away from the audience so that he didn’t miss his transport. It was clear he would have been happy to stay for a lot longer.
He recounted a conversation where someone put to him the fact that if Drive is about masculinity, Only God Forgives is about being emasculated and crawling back to the womb, then The Neon Demon is rebirth as a girl. NWR laughed but admitted he could see this through-line, and I can too. He also said of the film “I wanted to make my own fantasy about being a 16 year old girl – which every man has inside of him. Doesn’t he?” Maybe one of my male readers can answer that; but that feeling of being the centre of attention when you walk into a room – perhaps that’s something we’ve all dreamed about.
The most interesting revelation was that NWR admitted to being colour-blind! Given the visual impact of his movies, this left me quite stunned! The fact that he doesn’t see all the colours forces his crew to look at things in a new way, and I wonder what the process is actually like?
I recommend this – but only if you know what you’re letting yourself in for!
(PS the trailer makes it out to be more of a horror film than it actually is.)