The Neon Demon Blu-ray review
The news of the Suspiria remake being cast and pushed into production is not cause for ire, but rather bewilderment. The argument for Suspiria being an auteur film, a neo-Gothic Italian fever dream/rock video made by Dario Argento at the peak of his powers, is strong. It’s a movie whose strength rests on a very singular vision and cinematic sensibility and therefore, not conducive to a remake. I would agree. Also, Suspiria has already been remade recently or at least re-thought and refined and re-mounted as something new. That film? Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon.
Refn’s delirious paean to female jealousy, corrosive vanity and psychotronic visuals takes the ideas and sensuality and surrealism of Argento’s 1977 shock-opera and grafts them to his own sensibilities, creating a color-crazy mind bender, a film that – like Suspiria – is driven by its music and fluid camera work and follows a girl, a sort of Dorothy/Alice as she goes down the rainbow rabbit hole into Hell itself. It’s a movie that puts narrative logic and flow second to its visceral pleasures and frissons and because of that, it has divided audiences. Just like Suspiria did and still does. And seeing it here, in 1080p high definition on Blu-ray (the film was released on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD last week) hammers home just how sumptuous a retina-shag the film really is. It’s positively orgasmic.
The Neon Demon stars the perfectly-cast, doe-eyed Elle Fanning as Jesse, a 16-year-old girl who appears in LA (I say appears because the film simply starts and she’s there, like a dream, no exposition necessary or wanted) and is almost immediately sucked into the cesspool she has willingly sought out: the ruthless, alien world of professional modelling. Jesse initially seems to be an innocent, lost in an ocean of sex and ego and illusion and, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, she begins to assemble admirers and enablers as she drifts down her own yellow brick road to hell. First there’s the sweet amateur photographer (Karl Glusman) who loves her and anchors her in reality; then there’s the supportive make-up artist (Jenna Malone) whose attentions might be more sapphic and not as sisterly as they seem; there’s the malevolent motel manager (Keanu Reeves) who leers and stalks the peripherals of the story and the monstrous designer (Alessandro Nivola) who places Jesse on a pedestal. And then there are the statuesque models who are none to pleased to be replaced by this ingenue.
And then there’s that not-so-cowardly lion, a real-deal beast that appears just as mysteriously as Jesse does, adding nothing to the story but adding so much texture to the overall phantasmagorical experience.
And then there’s Cliff Martinez’s pulsing electronic score, a software sculpted successor to Goblin’s percussion-mad music for Argento’s film. Indeed the movie sounds just as good as it looks, especially here, in this release.
The Neon Demon is a punishing picture and repeated viewings do nothing to diminish its power. It fact, they deepen its mystique. It’s Refn’s real deal masterpiece. So far…
Broad Green Pictures‘ Blu-ray is light on extras, but what there is available on the back end is solid. The doc that explores the soundtrack is brief but compelling, there’s a feature that cheekily tries to explain the movie’s mysteries and then, best of all, Refn and Fanning do a commentary together and… it’s sweet! Fanning admits she’s never done an audio commentary (as this film is her first starring role) and she’s positively giddy. It’s adorable. And Refn – who has two daughters of his own – is paternal, clearly enjoying his star’s glee and gently guiding her through anecdotes about the production. Based on the cold artifice of his films, some believe Refn to be the same, but he’s anything but. He’s a big geek, who loves making movies and playing with conventions and his audience. Outside of the gentle mirth between the two voices, the commentary also offers excellent advice on how to cheat a low budget. Indeed, despite its cast and lush look, The Neon Demon was a relatively cheap movie to make. And Refn tells you how he navigated those limitations expertly.
The Neon Demon is a stand-alone wonder, a living nightmare captured and trapped in the confined of cinema. Like Suspiria. It can’t be imitated or duplicated because it is propelled by the soul and eye of an artist. Like Suspiria. It’s amusing that it had a relatively wide release because it’s an anti-horror horror film that flips the bird to conventional, commercial genre fare. Like Suspiria. So take comfort that the spirit of Argento is alive in the palette of Nicolas Winding Refn. Even if this odd Suspiria remake is a bust, you’ll have The Neon Demon. This is a very good thing…