Some will find meaning in the latest movie from Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive). The Neon Demon, which follows Elle Fanning as a new-to-L.A. model, has all the trappings of a film desperately stretching to say something. The pace is languid, the characters opaque. (“But that’s on purpose!” I can already hear yelled in protest.) The dialogue, most of which is stilted philosophy about femininity and beauty, sounds like something your freshman-year roommate said and you learned to ignore.
Everything I’ve described so far could have still had a place within an enjoyable version of The Neon Demon, you know, the film teased by those excellently cut trailers. This is a movie by NWR—as several title cards before and after the film will remind you—and with that credit comes the expectation of shock, awe, and a respectable dose of up-his-own-assness. As an admirer of Bronson, unrepentant lover of Drive, and moderate defender of Only God Forgives, nothing would have pleased me more than some of the Danish director’s signature muchness. But the series of meandering scenes that comprise the first three quarters of Neon Demon will leave you begging for the characters to just freaking gore someone already!
Eventually (and far too late in the film) all of that muchness—the gore, the sex, the interesting stuff—floods onto the screen with sound and fury, as if the movie had fallen asleep and suddenly woke up, shouting to prove that it hadn’t been sleeping. There are some truly beautiful visuals—both ethereal and grotesque, but always provocative—that could be worth the price of admission if accessorized with a generous amount of patience. The ending will shock just about everyone, but to what end? Neon Demon is as beautiful and empty as the industry it sends up. D+