In some corners it’s been dubbed Dario Argento’s Next Top Model.
For auteur Nicholas Winding Refn, the Internet has spoken. And — predictably — the early reaction out of Cannes for the director’s new film The Neon Demon is… well, maybe something less than all-glowing. Divisive, yet again.
We all knew going in the best part of Neon Demon would not be the film itself. No, no, no. It’s all about the reaction.
One of my early favorites wrote, “NEON DEMON makes SHOWGIRLS looks like Bergman, but is slower.” Ah, the Refn Pregnant Pause.
NEON DEMON makes SHOWGIRLS look like Bergman but is slower. If you've seen the intensely gorgeous stills, you've largely seen the film
— Nick James (@filmnickjames) May 19, 2016
And if we’ve seen the stills, he goes on to Tweet, we’ve essentially seen it all.
One critic said it was a step back “after the wilds of ONLY GOD FORGIVES (which I can now forgive, too).”
These days it seems Refn likes to overdose on strange. I’m convinced in his spare time he and Jodorowsky (the Chilean Godfather of the visually beautiful and head-scratching weird) get together, read tarot cards, and administer direct injections of surrealism… all while reading negative reviews of their work of course.
Dare I suggest we be thankful for that?
That said, it was so lustily booed that when the dedication to Refn's wife came onscreen, THEY BOOED HER TOO
— Kyle Buchanan (@kylebuchanan) May 19, 2016
Hollywood is stuck in a massive creative rut. How many passionless comic book films does the world need? Or lackluster reboots? Or anything by Michael Bay? Tired, tired, very tired.
Fortunately we have the indie scene.
That people like Refn (and his two-person production company “Space Rocket Nation”) can get a $6 million film out the door — for better or worse — is a minor miracle indeed. One that should be celebrated. Or booed. Or both.
When the film reaches its logical end point, Refn just keeps pushing, and eventually lands on a sequence so jaw-dropping – almost certainly a sly, glossy-magazine refashioning of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s groundbreaking surrealist short Un Chien Andalou – that all you can do is howl or cheer.
This is, of course, familiar territory for NWR.
A few years back a theater-full of Cannes sophisticates took in a screening of what they thought would be Drive 2. Instead they got Only God Forgives (2013). Slow motion. Ryan Gosling staring into the nether. Followed by karaoke (in Thai). Then some gratuitous violence. Cool electronica. Silence. Kristin Scott Thomas cursing while eating. More karaoke. Extended gratuitous violence. KST cursing while yelling. Pregnant pause. Inexplicable womb scene. And — pregnant pause — extended super slowmo karaoke. Credits (in Thai).
And yet here I am still trying to understand why the boos rained down that evening.
Still mulling The Neon Demon but I think I loved it. Lots of boos at the #Cannes screening but its basically Dario Argento's Next Top Model
— Leslie Felperin (@LeslieFelperin) May 19, 2016
It’s hard to decipher this mystical Dane.
He’s perfectly capable of making superb, if close-to-normal films. There’s Drive (2011) with Ryan Gosling. Of course. A smash. But before that one there was his remarkable debut Pusher (1996). And the even finer sequel Pusher 2 (2004), one that would also help propel fellow Danish countryman Mads Mikkelsen to stardom (most memorably as the villain in 2006’s Casino Royale). Looking back at those earlier works you may be surprised to learn they’re even directed by Refn. They look gritty, at times feature shaky camera work, and eschew high style in favor of a Scorsese-like street vibe.
If the supermodel knife fight in Nicolas Winding Refn’s movie doesn’t do it for you, maybe the necrophilia masturbation scene will.
Maybe he’s the ultimate cinematic troll?
With OGF perhaps Refn decided to go El Topo on us. Because, in the end it’s the reaction that matters. Good? Bad? Not really important. The kids dig it!
He might have a point. And, apparently, Refn, if you believe what he says is in recent interviews is “from the future.” That might explain why he probably knows something the rest of us don’t.
WATCH: The Neon Demon // The Art of the Refn Pause
Indifference is the Enemy
So The Neon Demon.
Praise the boos. Praise the fanboys. Praise the reaction.
Maybe it’s like Achtung Baby. That one initially threw us U2 fans for a loop. It was so different — it was the polar opposite of the rockabilly of Rattle and Hum that defined the latter part of the band’s 80s sound, and so too were the futuristic, visually stunning videos. Looking back on that album we now clearly regard it as art, a masterpiece, not to mention a commercial and creative success.
I’m sitting here Stateside, heavily anticipating Neon Demon’s theatrical release in June; because this country’s film culture is as generic and mediocre as it’s ever been. NWR to the (super slowmo) rescue…
Will Demon succeed commercially? Hard to say, and that depends on how you define success. I’m probably not putting my neck on the line to suggest the film won’t reach the lofty box office heights of Drive. Could it become Refn’s Holy Mountain? You never know, and it will take at least a decade for us to know. Just as it did for Achtung Baby.
But this I do know:
Neon Demon is leagues better than Showgirls. By one Elle Fanning. And at least two — no, three! — buckets of blood. Never bet against slow motion, the pregnant pause, and Refn.