This is the type of movie that generates strong reactions in the audience, reactions that run the gamut but at least rise above the resounding “meh” that meets most summer films. It’s a meticulously crafted work of art, each scene precise and perfectly calibrated as colors dissolve into each other and create an artificial world of detachment. As Cliff Martinez’s phenomenal score pulsates in the background–scratch that, at the forefront–Natasha Braier’s striking cinematography balances beauty, hollowness, and the grotesque. Anything from mirrors to animals are used as key symbols throughout, and a runway scene during the second half is a brilliant symbolic representation of an essential transformative moment. This is style over substance in a good way; sure, the film’s satirical elements and Refn’s penchant for symbolism aren’t particularly mind-blowing, but the way they’re integrated into the aesthetic experience is fascinating.
The cast is uniformly excellent, particularly due to the way they’re asked to play their characters (i.e. a bit detached from them). Abbey Lee, Jena Malone, and Elle Fanning are all up to the task, and it’s hard to take your eyes off of them even though they check very few of those conventional character arc boxes. The film overall eschews convention in favor of aesthetics, and part of the reason it works so well is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously with that decision. Call it pretentious or call me perverse if you want, but there’s a dark comedic undercurrent to be found in this film that embraces the ridiculous extremely well. It’s twisted, but it’s also funny and is a good time at the movies (note that this is subjective and I’m a weird guy who likes weird movies). The last act is fucking insane, giving an early quote in the film a whole new meaning and bringing the situation to levels unlike you have ever seen before. By the time the beautiful end credits roll around, you may be enthralled, repulsed, both, or not even in your seat anymore. That’s what makes it worth watching.
Photo credits: The Neon Demon, Broad Green Pictures