I bet Nicolas Winding Refn likes his steak rare. The Danish enfant terrible of Drive and Only God Forgives relishes in the mutilation of flesh and the desecration of limbs. Blood doesn't just splatter in his films, it streams. The monumentally gross disembowelment sequence in his excellent Viking odyssey Valhalla Rising comes to mind as the gold standard in this department.
So The Neon Demon, a glittery mind fuck about the self-immolating horrors of the Los Angeles fashion world, seems like a natural progression for Refn. The inherent vice and artificiality of the locale gives him carte blanche to fill the frame with flashing strobe lights, swan-like bodies and surreal splashes of color.
Elle Fanning stars as Jessie, the naïve Southern belle who instantly garners the attention of famous male photographers and designers much to the chagrin of her veteran diva counterparts. If sex is power, then jealousy is the film's only currency.
The influence of David Lynch's Mulholland Drive can be felt in the freaky sequences featuring Jessie and her unhinged landlord (Keanu Reeves). But such moments are only placeholders for Refn's truly depraved and absurd conclusion. Here, the film's critique of female objectification and cosmetic surgery turns from eerie to grotesque. There are no more beauties, only face-lifted beasts.
Ultimately, Refn enjoys making his heroine watch and listen as others are torn apart, sometimes figuratively. His camera lingers on blood soaked bodies, rejected and tortured faces looking in vain for help.
The Neon Demon, which opens Friday, June 24, at the Angelika Carmel Mountain Cinemas, isn't interested in sympathy. It's a vibrant, problematic and narcissistic howl at the moon, just as vapid and hollow as the industry it's trying to deconstruct. Fanning's doe-eyed performance embodies this contradiction nicely, at times sweet and demure, at others vengeful and manipulative. She is who she needs to be, in this sleek purgatory and the next.
Chevalier: Athina Rachel Tsangari’s latest film takes place aboard a boat sailing the Aegean Sea where six Greek men decide to conduct a series of competitions. Screens through Thursday, June 30, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Janey Makes a Play: Jared Callahan’s documentary follows a 90-year-old woman named Janey after she decides to write and direct a play for her community. Screens through Thursday, June 30, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Gurukulam: This meditative documentary follows a group of students and their teacher as they confront fundamental questions about the world and nature at large. Opens Friday, June 24, at the Angelika Carmel Mountain Cinemas.
Independence Day: Resurgence: Earth is under attack, again. My 15-year-old self really wants this to be good.
The Free State of Jones: Based on true events, a reformed Confederate soldier (Matthew McConaughey) leads a slave rebellion in the waning years of the Civil War.
The Neon Demon: Nicolas Winding Refn’s new film explores the dangerous and brutal power plays within the Los Angeles fashion industry. Opens Friday, June 24, at the Angelika Carmel Mountain Cinemas.
The Shallows: Blake Lively finds herself marooned on a rock after being attacked by a vengeful shark in the latest from Jaime Collet-Serra (Run All Night).
The Witness: James Solomon’s documentary examines the death of Kitty Genovese, a woman who was stalked and murdered in front of countless witnesses on a New York City street in 1964. Opens Friday, June 24, at the Angelika Carmel Mountain Cinemas.
Therapy for the Vampire: This comedy follows famous psychiatrist Sigmund Freud as he treats a vampire who is fed up with his undying wife.
Three: A cop, a criminal, and a doctor all find themselves entangled in Johnnie To’s new action thriller set entirely in a hospital.