Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Things To Do

Review: 'The Neon Demon' shocks but doesn't sustain

Equal parts lurid and ludicrous, Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon chased more moviegoers from Monday's screening than any movie I've seen lately.

For some, lesbian necrophilia was too much to handle. For others, the cannibalism and regurgitation took things over the edge. A nonexistent plot and vapid dialogue certainly didn't help viewers remain seated.

Once again, Refn is an overeager provocateur, after 2013's reviled Only God Forgives took all the fun out of Ryan Gosling and Bangkok kink. The Neon Demon returns Refn to Los Angeles where Drive and Gosling made him a filmmaker to watch. Nobody guessed it would be through your fingers, in disgust.

The Neon Demon is set amid the decadence of L.A. fashion scene, where 16-year-old Jesse (Elle Fanning) is fresh off what we imagine is a bus from what might be heartland America. Refn explains nothing. Everyone is immediately smitten with, or intimidated by her look, which isn't that special to untrained eyes. Even a gay designer (Alessandro Nivola) later anointing Jesse as runway royalty appears to climax at the sight of her. Hopefully, Refn is going for derisive laughs because that's what he gets, and it isn't the first or last time.

Jesse is signed by a modeling agent (Christina Hendricks), immediately causing friction with two other clients, Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee). A makeup artist (Jena Malone) takes Jesse under her wing, obviously with sapphic motivation that turns atrocious when her advances are denied. If there is a theme to The Neon Demon it's an unhealthy one, of women figuratively and literally ripping each other to shreds, jealous of beauty and frightened of it fading.

We've seen this catfight dynamic played out less hysterically before, in films like Black Swan and Death Becomes Her. Refn's delivery is the former's equal in lurid artfulness, drenched in glowing blood reds and bruise blues. In too-fleeting moments, The Neon Demon nails the absurd narcissism of the latter movie. But there's a meanness throughout The Neon Demon, bordering on misogyny.

It's there from the opening shots of Jesse posed for a fashion shoot, lovely except for the crimson drip from a faux razor slice in her throat, all the way to a reportedly improvised howler of a finale. Any intersection of sex and violence is provocative but isn't enough for Refn. He has other abominations in mind, each presented with erotic intent.

Women in The Neon Demon are continually at the mercy of men. A fleabag motel clerk (Keanu Reeves) leers at underage Jesse and does worse off-screen to an even younger girl. A photographer (Desmond Harrington) orders Jesse to strip naked, slathering gold paint on her body, part of her diva conversion. I'm guessing the mountain lion that ransacks Jesse's motel room probably is male. None of these men get what's coming to them; they get what they want.

What truly makes The Neon Demon frustrating is Refn's undeniable talent for arresting images. His color schemes and framing make each second fascinating to observe, even when the dialogue is stultifying. Jesse's conversion to full-blown narcissist is portrayed as a triangulated seduction of herself, kissing reflections while Cliff Martinez's electronica music throbs. All steaming piles of self-indulgent claptrap should look this good.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

Comments
Hotly anticipated Ichicoro Ane is now open in St. Petersburg

Hotly anticipated Ichicoro Ane is now open in St. Petersburg

Noel Cruz seemed remarkably chill. As did his partner Kerem Koca. All around them in the Station House building in St. Petersburg, workers pounded the last nails, bartenders unpacked boxes of glassware and jewel-toned bottles of Amari, and the kitche...
Published: 12/12/17
Party like it’s Christmas in Narnia with these recipes perfect for tea time

Party like it’s Christmas in Narnia with these recipes perfect for tea time

As a kid, I always looked for doors into other worlds. I blame Narnia. In C.S. Lewis’ classic novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, four British children step through a magic wardrobe into Narnia, a world filled with talking animals and plenty ...
Published: 12/12/17

Tuesday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYCollege basketballMississippi State vs. Cincinnati7 p.m.ESPN2Fordham at Rutgers7 p.m.ESPNUSt. Peter’s at Seton Hall7 p.m.FS1Michigan at Texas9 p.m.ESPN2Albany at Memphis9 p.m.ESPNUNBALakers at Knicks7 p.m.ESPN76ers at Timberwolves9:30 p.m.ESPNNH...
Updated: 7 hours ago
‘80s Holiday Gift Guide: Here’s what to buy your friends this season

‘80s Holiday Gift Guide: Here’s what to buy your friends this season

The holidays are almost here, and as a proud fan of the '80s, you no doubt want to represent the decade in your gift-giving again this year. But how many A Christmas Story leg lamp ornaments can you really give out? Here are some fresh ideas to ...
Published: 12/11/17
Kesha, Macklemore coming to the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa

Kesha, Macklemore coming to the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa

Brush your teeth with Jack Daniel's and put on your grandpa's hand-me-downs, because Kesha and Macklemore are teaming up for a summer tour.The pop outcasts-turned-heroes will hit the road for a 30-city trek that includes a stop at Tampa's MidFlorida ...
Published: 12/11/17
What to watch this week: New season of ‘The Librarians,’ Gwen Stefani’s Christmas special

What to watch this week: New season of ‘The Librarians,’ Gwen Stefani’s Christmas special

MondaySEASON FINALE: The Gifted, 9 p.m., Fox: The team at Mutant HQ is divided on what to do next after Jace is forced to hand over something valuable to Dr. Campbell.Disney's Fairytale Weddings: Holiday Magic, 8 p.m., Freeform: A behind-the-scenes l...
Published: 12/11/17
Watch: New ‘Ready Player One’ trailer is instant classic

Watch: New ‘Ready Player One’ trailer is instant classic

Have you seen the first full trailer for Ready Player One? Here it is. It debuted Sunday, and a million '80s nerds all cried out in joy. Like the book by Ernest Cline, it just dazzles. It looks like Steven Spielberg is back in top form again. (Sorry,...
Published: 12/11/17
Golden Globe-nominated movies and when to see them in Tampa Bay

Golden Globe-nominated movies and when to see them in Tampa Bay

Guillermo Del Toro’s romantic creature feature The Shape of Water soaked up seven Golden Globes nominations Monday, kicking off another marathon awards season. The Shape of Water is nominated for best dramatic motion picture alongside Christop...
Published: 12/11/17
‘Shape of Water,’ ‘Big Little Lies’ lead Golden Globes

‘Shape of Water,’ ‘Big Little Lies’ lead Golden Globes

Guillermo del Toro’s Cold War-era fairytale "The Shape of Water" swam away with a leading seven nominations from the Golden Globes, while the HBO drama "Big Little Lies" led television nominees with six nods. In what’s being viewed as a wide-open Osc...
Published: 12/11/17
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Dec. 12

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Dec. 12

Petula Clark: The two-time Grammy Award-winning artist is known for hits like Downtown, I Know a Place, My Love and I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love. 2 and 7:30 p.m., Central Park Performing Arts Center, 105 Central Park Drive, Largo. $34.50-$49.50....
Published: 12/11/17