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The Neon Demon Blu-ray Review

The Neon Demon (2016) movie poster The Neon Demon

Theatrical Release: June 24, 2016 / Running Time: 118 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn / Writers: Nicolas Winding Refn (story & screenplay); Mary Laws, Polly Stenham (screenplay)

Cast: Elle Fanning (Jesse), Karl Glusman (Dean), Jena Malone (Ruby), Bella Heathcote (Gigi), Abbey Lee (Sarah), Desmond Harrington (Jack), Christina Hendricks (Roberta Hoffman), Keanu Reeves (Hank), Charles Baker (Mikey), Alessandro Nivola (Robert Sarno - uncredited)

Buy The Neon Demon from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD Instant Video

Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn made an immediate impact with his American debut,
2011's Drive. Though an underperformer at the box office and a touch divisive with the general public at large, the distinctive crime drama was greatly appreciated by many critics and civilians who saw it and valued its unique style and soundtrack. Refn's follow-up effort, the Thai-set thriller Only God Forgives (2013), was a case of diminished returns with his now-signature neon visuals and electronic score underwhelming in limited release.

Refn tries to rebound with The Neon Demon, whose title suggests more of the director's flair. Certain elements of Refn's past two films -- the pulsing electronic score (courtesy, as always, of Cliff Martinez), the bright lights and colors in darkness -- do resurface, but Neon is quite different in many ways and though some reinvention is welcome, what we get here is to no one's benefit.

New model Jesse (Elle Fanning) gets lathered in gold paint by a creepy photographer (Desmond Harrington) in "The Neon Demon."

An original tale like Only, Neon Demon, which credits Refn alone with story and has him share responsibility for the screenplay with novice duo Mary Laws and Polly Shenham, initially seems to find the director stretching his creative muscles. In lieu of a laconic Ryan Gosling, we get a guileless Elle Fanning as Jesse, a 16-year-old Georgia orphan who has moved to Los Angeles to try to start a modeling career. Everyone (except the viewer, that is) recognizes that Jesse has "it" and is destined for greatness.

While that could be the basis of an uplifting tale, it certainly isn't here. The scathing depiction of the modeling world makes Jesse the prey and everyone around her a potential predator. That includes the agent (Christina Hendricks) who instructs her to say she's 19, an aspiring young photographer and potential boyfriend (Karl Glusman), an exceptionally creepy photographer (Desmond Harrington) who closes a set and makes her strip, and an important fashion designer (Alessandro Nivola) who practically salivates at the sight of her.

Jesse creates the strongest reactions in her female contemporaries. While make-up artist Ruby (Jena Malone) is protective and seemingly enamored, her friends, experienced models Sarah (Abbey Lee) and the proudly surgically enhanced Gigi (Bella Heathcote) rightfully view Jesse as a threat, who is soon competing for the same jobs as them.

Things are about to get awkward between make-up artist Ruby (Jena Malone) and Jesse (Elle Fanning).

What begins as a reasonably compelling and deliberately paced exploration of Jesse's entrance into this dog eat dog profession becomes something altogether different somewhere along the line. Jesse's resistance toward unrequited affection drives one character to necrophilia and it's all downhill from there. The final hour of The Neon Demon feels like three. As slow and uncomfortable as anything I've seen on the big screen, the movie devolves from stylish satire into off-the-wall endurance challenge. You kind of get the movie's horror designation from this painful final act,
which is full of blood and disturbing material. But the film never frightens or unsettles. It simply annoys in throwing any semblance of a narrative out the window and confirming what Only God Forgives seemed to indicate: that Refn made a really good movie in Drive (which had a source text and a script by someone else) but probably cannot be expected to make another anytime soon. Clearly more talented as a director than as a writer, Refn should consider someone else's script for his next project before all the good will earned by Drive dries up.

The movie includes Keanu Reeves in a small role as the slimy and short-tempered manager of the motel where Jesse takes residence. He and an associate have to deal with an intruder into Jesse's room -- a wildcat -- in a scene that is mentioned again but never explained or resolved.

Those who appreciate films that are different and edgy might find some value in The Neon Demon. That includes critics who were surprisingly divided down the middle (after mostly dismissing Refn's last film). But the average moviegoer will leave bewildered and angry at this film and at themselves for investing in something with ultimately little to say and with no greater goal than to shock. The lack of appeal with the general public was reflected in the film's lowly box office performance. Despite a fairly substantial 783 theater count, the movie opened in just 15th place with a first weekend tally of under $600,000. With steep subsequent drops, the movie barely doubled that, finishing with $1.3 million, still less than what its opening weekend forecast was.

Three months later, Broad Green Pictures brings The Neon Demon to Blu-ray and DVD today.

The Neon Demon Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), 5.1 DTS (Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: September 27, 2016
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($26.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

As inane as The Neon Demon is narratively, you've still got to give the film some credit for standing out visually. Gladly, those 2.40:1 visuals look their best on Blu-ray, showing off the striking colors and irregular compositions that lend the film a dreamlike quality. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is also on point, distributing Cliff Martinez's electronic score and the little bit of dialogue well.

Cliff Martinez mixes it up at the mixing board in "Behind the Soundtrack of 'The Neon Demon.'" That's right, Keanu Reeves is in "The Neon Demon", something "About 'The Neon Demon'" reminds us.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's extras begin with an audio commentary by writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn and, making her commentary debut, Elle Fanning. They vow to give "half the truth", but not give away all the secrets.
That promise does little to distinguish this track, which unfolds with ordinary screen-specific observations and reflections on production.

"Behind the Soundtrack of The Neon Demon" (5:08) lets Refn and composer Cliff Martinez discuss the film's electronic music, which is excerpted extensively here, as part of the duo's partnership developed over three films and counting.

"About The Neon Demon" (1:12) is a brisk short that whizzes through cast sound bites about the film while primarily serving to promote it.

That piece is the closest we get to marketing here. No trailers for The Neon Demon or any other Broad Green titles are included on this filled-near-capacity Region A BD-50.

The unusual menu settles on images of glitter falling and flames engulfing black and white body imagery.

No slipcovers or inserts join the plain blue disc and standard blue keepcase.

If you've ever wanted to watch someone gag on film for an extended period of time, then Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and the ending of "The Neon Demon" have you covered.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Halfway through the year, The Neon Demon kindly established the nadir of 2016 cinema for me and with just three months to go, I am doubtful I'll see anything worse this year. Nicolas Winding Refn again places style well above substance, making you question the apparent brilliance of his breakout film Drive and whether he is better suited to a different artistic expression than feature films.

Broad Green's basic Blu-ray may leave fans of the film wanting more, but it is the film it holds that will leave most wanting much, much more.

Buy The Neon Demon from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn: Drive Only God Forgives | Produced by Nicolas Winding Refn: Pusher (2012)
New to Disc: Cell Equals Hunt for the Wilderpeople The Meddler Now You See Me 2 The Conjuring 2
Elle Fanning: Maleficent The Bling Ring | Jena Malone: The Hunger Games: Complete 4-Film Collection
Bella Heathcote: Dark Shadows Not Fade Away The Rewrite | Abbey Lee: Mad Max: Fury Road

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Reviewed September 27, 2016.



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