|Scene from The Neon Demon|
Director Nicolas Winding Refn is one of the more interesting directors working today. While he has never sacrificed his style, the bright and popping imagery mixed with violence helped to make his 2011 film Drive a cult favorite. However, his follow-up Only God Forgives received a brutal lashing for being darker and more violent. Still, it reflected Refn's one gift as a filmmaker: he could turn the grotesque into art like nobody else. With his first film since then called The Neon Demon releasing its first trailer, it looks like it'll be more of the same deranged Refn charm. Thankfully, that's enough to get me in the door.
I understand that Refn is more of a cult director than a prestigious one. I am also aware that I am one of those who deliberately hated Only God Forgives. However, I am attracted to his style and hold almost everything he's done backwards from Drive to be in some ways fascinating. He isn't for the squeamish, yet I think there's value in viewing an average frame of his work and noticing its beauty. It's what I've done with The Neon Demon imagery, which has largely been some of his best-looking work. While I could argue that this film going directly to Amazon Studios is a bit of a bad sign, I will accept that the streaming service does have potential. After all, Chi-Raq got good buzz for them.
My one hope is that Refn learns from Only God Forgives' failure and has made a far more interesting movie. If I had to suggest what went wrong, I would say that it was too hyperviolent and stuck in cryptic art house tropes. I'm unsure what separates it from his other work, but it lacked an immediacy that made the style seem cool. I don't know much about The Neon Demon beyond the trailer and the few images, but I do think that even if this doesn't seem like a return to form, it still will look really cool and provide for some interesting wallpaper for my computer.
Check out the trailer below:
That looks pretty cool. Here's the plot according to IMDb:
When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.
The plot does sound a bit familiar, especially since this is going to be a horror film. The subject of beauty and obsession is one that has been popular in cinema. However, I do think that the one advantage that Refn has is that he makes it look unique and deranged in all of the right ways. I expect it to be bloody, as the trailer's front page image would suggest. However, I do hope that it leans more towards the Drive side of his tendencies where the quietness manages to unveil something more unnerving about the story. I trust Refn to deliver something. If nothing else, it will be a unique experience.
The one other thing to look forward to is the return of Cliff Martinez. If there's any composer/director pairing that gets me exciting, it's definitely these two. While Drive is the more admired work, I think that Martinez's score for Only God Forgives is one of the best so far this decade, and the composer's work in general is a nice shift from more traditional music (also check out his work on The Knick). I think that the few strands in the trailer (provided that is actual score) is already intriguing and gets me even more excited - especially since the score drops in a few months here.
Still, as whole package, it's hard to not find a lot to enjoy about The Neon Demon's first trailer. It definitely has a lot of Refn aesthetics going on, and it isn't entirely clear just how much it'll be Only God Forgives-level repulsive. For now, my expectations are pretty high, and I look forward to the day that this is released. Even if it won't be in the regular Oscar conversations, I do intend to at least review it and see if it's any good. With a solid cast and a beautiful set, what's not to like? It's at very least one of the most distinguished films of the year.