“Are you meals or are you sex?” the Los Angeles model asks the young fashion-planet wannabe (Elle Fanning) close to the commence of The Neon Demon. It is the story’s ice breaker count on crash and carnage quickly. We have been right here before in Nicolas Winding Refn’s operate. Controlled delirium moving in on surreal derangement. This Danish director made Pusher, Valhalla Rising and Only God Forgives. In a typical Refn film there will be blood, death, violence, torture, madness and God, even though not necessarily in that order.
Even by Refn’s standard, the new film requires the blood pudding. It is like a Jacqueline Susann novel place via a meat grinder. Teenager Elle comes to LA, hoping for a career in the city of fleshpots and crackpots. But beware what you dream of. “Friends” she quickly meets incorporate Sapphic makeup artist Jena Malone, seedy motelier Keanu Reeves (making you believe of the Bates Motel in a complete new upscale light) and two leggy predator-bimbos who like to, let’s say, “do stuff” to the things they love.
Sex, sadism and, yes, cannibalism. In a painterly, even dazzling way, Refn splurges it across the screen. He’s the Jacques-Louis David of shocking spectacle. The film is either a sick dark joke or a multicoloured hoot, based on your opinion. The only certainty: when in doubt Refn will have a character vomit up an eyeball. Or for bored variety he may try some thing cool and pre-Raphaelitish like the scene of Jena Malone lying topless in a shallow grave surrounded by roses. (Why?) Or — back to enormity — he will stage an extended adore scene in a morgue amongst a major character and a naked corpse.
I do not mind I’m an amoral film critic. I carry in my thoughts only Jean Cocteau’s dictum, that the issue that matters in cinema is “Etonnez-nous!” But I start to suspect there are unseen shallows in Refn’s cinema for all its higher-res sensationalism not to say a San Andreas Fault of molten dramatic voids lying beneath this Los Angeles of larky surfeit.