Nicolas Winding Refn is one of the most visionary and abstract directors we have in the current mold. He’s a filmmaker whose films will probably age a lot better in critical circles than they are received in present day. They polarize and split audiences. His films feature an equal amount of boos and standing ovations at Cannes. No matter the love or the hate, they are a visceral experience and no matter your outcome at the end, are worth plopping down to sit and watch. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of Only God Forgives, its one I’ve sat on the shelf for now and hope to dust off and revisit it again down the road. Maybe it was I that wasn’t ready for it, yet. That didn’t stop me from being incredibly excited for his latest film, The Neon Demon, which had me drooling with excitement to see it from the sight of the first trailer when it was released.
When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will use any means necessary to get what she has. Shot in Los Angeles, the “city of dreams,” The Neon Demon, features a driving electronic soundtrack by Cliff Martinez, who previously composed the celebrated scores for Refn’s films Drive and Only God Forgives, and stunning high fashion by costume designer and past Refn collaborator Erin Benach (Drive).
The Neon Demon sucked me right in and held onto me from the first frame to the very end. While what we are watching is a movie, its even moreso an experience. When you culminate the shot compositions, the score, the make-up, costumes, sets and lighting that’s what it is. Each piece of their very important crafts are each specifically tailored to compliment one another and blend together as one. The film opens up, welcomes you in and then you allow it to just take you everywhere its going to go. To become mesmerized and hypnotized by the abstract art Refn is throwing at you in the almost 2 hour run time.
Refn’s style with the film come from some obvious by loving influences; all of them very welcome and usually never done to this degree of admiration and perfection. The Neon Demon feels like the lovechild of a David Lynch and Dario Argento film that features Stanley Kubrick building some sets and structuring some shots. There are a lot of weird, unorthodox scenes, structure and narrative that go along with some wonderful uses of color (strong blues and reds) in a shot composition that is well thought out structured and purposeful. Looking at this film is enough to enjoy it. I really wish there was an isolated score track as a bonus feature, as it would still work swimmingly as a silent terror feature.
Cliff Martinez comes in to score his third Refn film in a row. His soundtrack to the film is a character within itself. It perfectly matches and accents each and every scene, action and character in the film. Such a wonderful marriage, even divorced from one another, each component is very strong. This is a really easy sell, as if you were already in love with the scores of Drive and Only God Forgives, you’re going to be easily drawn to this one as its of the same ilk as those two.
While they all look like super mannequins, the actors in the film are pretty on point. Jena Malone puts in her usual terrific work as she’s been such an undervalued asset to films her whole career. The real surprise and really non-surprise revelation is Elle Fanning. I’m more or less familiar with her work, but damn, this is a real coming of age and growing up performance. This appears to be a very delicate and difficult role to handle on paper, but she completely nails it and then some. Refn not only captures her perfectly, but she gives such a wonderful visual performance that she doesn’t need words to convey a single thing in the film.
Nicolas Winding Refn has made a film in The Neon Demon that I will constantly return to for myriads of reasons. There’s the experience, appreciation of the photography, my loving of weird shit and also to look for possible other interpretations and meanings to certain things. I love that the film is all there, but never close to being on the nose. I didn’t even get to touching on how beautiful the gore is in the movie. This is a beautiful, lovely, f***ed up trip through the Hollywood modeling scene turned into a horror film, and its perfect, engaging and a visual thrill to gaze upon.
Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2:40:1
Clarity/Detail: The Neon Demon is a big reason why we Blu-ray. Unfortunately its not being released in 4K UHD (In the US, Germany is getting one October 27th), but this Blu-ray has a wonderful image for you to feast your eyes upon. This splendor is taken in very sharp and crisp with a fully rounded picture. The amount of detail and vibrancy in the picture is something to really behold. It oozes with some old school Italian flair. Everything is crisp, clean.
Depth: This film does have a bit of a 3-dimensional look to it, much of it coming across during some modeling sequences and carefully crafted bits. The scene with the runway is a standout, as well as the audition sequence with the models sitting around in a waiting area. People and objects feature a good amount of spacing and background detail is quite good.
Black Levels: Blacks are deep and rich. There’s an elegance to them and when they need to sink in and bring an emptiness to a room, they do so with such expertise. The runway sequence and test shooting scene (Where Desmond Harrington has the gold paint) in the film relies on blacks and coloring and objects pop on a deep dark surface and it looks very haunting and beautiful. No crushing was seen in this viewing either.
Color Reproduction: Colors, oh boy, colors! They friggin’ rock my world with this film. Reds and blues, obvious stand out, but there is nothing but master craftsmanship in this films’ Blu-ray appearance to get these right. Gold is another color that isn’t as obvious, but is a very silent and striking player. Whites come across very strong and varied. This is a film where color is a very important part of the telling this tale and they get it so right. It also means that this is gonna look even more amazing on the German 4K UHD release.
Flesh Tones: Skin tones look natural, if not a hair bleached, and maintain a consistent appearance for the full duration of the film. This of course discounts some scenes with heavy red or blue filtering. Facial details seep through so cleaning looking at the characters. You can see every bit of make-up in lines, lipstick and specs of glitter. Dried blood, facial hairs, dimples and the like can also be seen clear as day.
Noise/Artifacts: Clean, nothing to report.
Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Dynamics: The Neon Demon shines with its beautiful 5.1 track. First of, the score sounds lovely in this mix, where it can both sound like a pulsating night club, a sweeping symphony or a scary fever dream. While score is heavy and a full presence in the mix, it never gets in the way of the film’s sound effects or vocals. Everybody gets along here, in a balance mix where things meet up, but also know when to fade out from one another. Effects in the mix all sound natural and layered to catch even the faintest bit of an echo. You’ll want to crank this beast up, as its such a part of the overall experience with the film.
Low Frequency Extension: The bass from the score gives the most rumble in the film and is the track’s overall star and MVP. Camera flashes, engines humming and other things give a more complimentary and natural vibe to the scenes in the film.
Surround Sound Presentation: The 5 channel track does remember to use its rear components, but doesn’t go overboard nor does it underuse them. Many of the trippy sequences feature some solid contributions from the back 2 speakers as well as they go a long way in using ambiance and background sounds to help craft the environments. Its a quiet film, but then again not. The front channels accurately follow the action back and forth, and place everything to the appropriate spotting and levels.
Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue is crisp and clear. Character placement and the path of voices traveled is very accurate. People are audible at all times during the feature.
- With Director Nicolas Winding Refn and Elle Fanning
Behind the Soundtrack of The Neon Demon (HD, 5:09) – This, while brief, almost serves as a ‘Making Of’ for the film, since the music drives a lot of the film and gives credence and extra life to the film’s scenes and look.
About The Neon Demon (HD, 1:11) – Some of the trailer plays while some press junket interviews with Nicholas Winding Refn, Elle Fanning and Keanu Reeves play.
Nicolas Winding Refn with The Neon Demon has crafted the best art house horror film since Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. Both serving as modern masterpieces of horror, art and filmmaking. As it serves now, I’m pretty sure its my favorite film of 2016. I want to watch it over and over and just continue to study it. Luckily, I get to do so on a fantastic looking and sounding Blu-ray. It really captures how beautiful this macabre treat is. Unfortunately, while it features a nice commentary, the remainder of the extras are pretty throwaway. The important thing is, THE FILM, and said film, The Neon Demon is 2016’s best and worth owning on its strength alone for any serious fan of film and horror.