Movie: ** 1/2
Video: **** 1/2
Audio: *** 1/2
Extras: ** 1/2
Article first published on Blogcritics.org
Most people probably don’t realize that Nicolas Winding Refn has been directing movies since long before Drive.
Always reveling in the underworld, it was only a matter of time before
Hollywood came knocking. It probably didn’t hurt having worked with
actors such as John Turturro (Fear X), Mads Mikkelsen (Bleeder, Pusher, Valhalla Rising), and Tom Hardy (Bronson). The most interesting fact is that his best film (Drive) he didn’t write.
Sixteen-year-old Jesse (Fanning) is an aspiring model and is quickly
taken under the wings of makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone) who introduces
her to the jealous Sarah (Abbey Lee)
and Gigi (Bella Heathcote). Jesse has that perfect look that most
models would kill for, quickly scooping up private jobs for the
highly-coveted photographer Jack (Desmond Harrington) and end-girl at a
runway show. The stakes continue to get higher as Jesse slips her way up
the runway ladder with Sarah, Gigi, and Ruby hatching a plan to try to
get whatever it is she has.
Broadgreen Pictures distributes The Neon Demon for Amazon
Studios on Blu-ray with stunning results. Say what you want about the
Refn’s meandering plot, but the film looks spectacular in high def.
Colors explode off the screen while never blooming or bleeding, and
blacks never crush unless intentionally. Detail could have used a little
bit of a boost; the film never looks as in focus as it could.
Unfortunately, a hint case of banding can be spotted in the sky behind
Fanning and co-star Karl Glusman in a nighttime scene. And a tiny case
of judder affects a door frame in Jesse’s hotel room during a long pan.
Aside from that, this is a tip top presentation.
The 5.1 DTS-HD track could also have used a bit of a life. Never
fully utilizing the surround speakers, this is one front heavy mix. The
music is placed at the forefront, but dialogue is never completely
drowned out. Bass is never as punchy as you’d expect considering
composer Cliff Curtis’s use of disco-infused beats, but it’s still an
almost intoxicating score. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t put to
better use to fully envelope the viewer in Refn’s mad, mad world. A
Spanish 5.1 DTS Digital Surround mix, along with English and Spanish
subtitles are included.
Considering how much love Refn has for his own film, the special
features are particularly lacking. Anyone hoping to learn more about the
production is stuck with an “Audio Commentary with Refn and Elle
Fanning.” It’s more interesting to hear Fanning ooh and aah over her
first commentary recording than to hear Refn try to explain his supposed
symbolism. “Behind the Soundtrack” (5 mins) consists of Refn and Curtis
gloat over the score and “About The Neon Demon” (1 min) is a
super quick EPK piece with Fanning talking about how she had to be
involved in a horror film revolving around models.
The Neon Demon is never particularly bad, but rarely really
good. You watch each scene play out hoping that it leads up to some kind
of brilliant finale. Instead, all we get are the end credits. It’s like
listening to a two hour crescendo only to have the power go out before
anything really happens. It feels incomplete, yet nothing happens that
makes you wish there was more. To avoid spoiler territory, all I can say
is that without the return of Fanning, there’s absolutely no way to
continue anyway. Bolstering a fantastic video transfer — hindered by an
unengaging sound mix — and lacking an effective allotment of bonus
features, The Neon Demon never sinks its teeth into the material
like it thinks it is. It’s every bit as vapid and beautiful as the
models it sets out to mock. With some luck, Refn will finally be able to
rise back up to the brilliance of Drive, but this is definitely not it.