This month’s The Directors series features the stylish, intense, polarizing, and unapologetically avant garde films of Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn . On April 22nd, 23rd, and 24th, join us for his most recent feature film, the 2016 candy-colored nightmare The Neon Demon.
A mesmerizing art film that might best be described as the twisted love child of Showgirls and The Holy Mountain, Refn’s mind-bender is a surreal and symbol-heavy social critique – although there is a narrative to the glossy, shocking proceedings. Jesse (a remarkable Elle Fanning) moves to Los Angeles just after her 16th birthday to launch a career as a model. After an agency director tells the waifish and naive teen that she has the qualities to become a top star, Jesse soon finds herself surrounded by all the shimmering beauty, excess, eccentricities, and duplicity of the Los Angeles glamour scene, including a doting admirer who may have more than friendship on her mind (Jena Malone); a seedy motel manager (Keanu Reeves; a salacious photographer; and ruthless and competitive vixens who despise her fresh-faced beauty.
A polarizing blitzkrieg of sight and sound that suggests Under the Skin as envisioned by Stanley Kubrick and the editors of Vogue, complemented perfectly by a Cannes-nominated soundtrack by regular Refn collaborator Cliff Martinez, The Neon Demon found itself on quite a number of Top 10 Films of the Year lists, while continuing to spark debate as to whether or not it’s a cautionary tale for those who prefer their lessons ripe with metaphor and a touch of ambiguity, or a self-indulgent exercise in shock and awe. We say – why can’t it be both?
“Refn is hardly the first moviemaker to find a link between supermodels and scary monsters, but he may be the most style-minded one to make the connection. Imagine an issue of Vogue with Maleficent as guest editor.” – Peter Howell, Toronto Star
“The Neon Demon is a voluptuous provocation, a stylish free-fall down a gonzo rabbit hole that is as entrancing as it is maddening.” – Rene Rodriguez Miami Herald
“Archly silly, quotable, visually hypnotic, and perfectly suited for repeat viewings. On first watch, the film is bizarre, hallucinatory, shockingly gruesome. A second watch unlocks the dumb-clever charms of Refn’s script.” – Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service
“Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest film is a self-indulgent exercise in style. But what self-indulgence! And what style!” – Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times
“The mesmeric pull of The Neon Demon cannot be denied. It lures you in for the kill..” – Scott Tobias, NPR