CANNES. To howl or cheer? Critics agree that the surface of Nicolas Winding Refn's "The Neon Demon" is impressive, but not quite on what's underneath.
The critics booed, yelled and applauded at Thursday night's press screening, reports several media, and reviews show the same division. Some miss substance and plot, while others revel in the dark atmosphere and glossy horror aesthetics. One thing is for sure: the film has left an impression.
We've collected some reviews at both ends of the spectrum:
"As stylish looking as the fashion industry’s most expensive photo shoots, this languorous, vampiric send-up of a field very close to movies, in that both are based to a great degree on good looks, fashion and the latest hot thing, could become a guilty pleasure for jaded scenesters and specialized audiences looking for the latest outré offering. But the Amazon Studios release will mostly be received with yawns, walk-outs and/or derision, as it was at the first Cannes press screening, where it was far more lustily booed than any other film this year."
– Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
"Refn’s gifts as a visual stylist are employed to arresting effect - there’s a luxuriant use of colour which evokes the work of fashion photographer Guy Bourdin. But peel back the glossy, overly groomed surface and there is not a lot of substance underneath."
– Wendy Ide, Screen International
"Nicolas Winding Refn brings the cinéma du choc to Cannes with a movie which is fantastically preposterous and objectionable, but expertly varnished with a sheen of pure evil."
– Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, 3 stars
"This grotesque, hyperstylized treatise on the fashion industry recaptures some of the zany images and B-movie abstractions of Refn's crossover effort, "Drive," though it never quite gels on the same level of inspiration. But, sure, the brand is warranted — elegant, sensual, and blood drenched, this is a genuine NWR film on every level."
– Eric Kohn, Indiewire, B-
"But who goes to a Refn movie for good taste? (Although his last film, “Only God Forgives,” went so far overboard as to be almost repellent.) You could say that the director never knows when to stop — but it’s probably more accurate to say that he knows exactly when to stop, but doesn’t give a damn. 'The Neon Demon' is worthy of those boos and that abuse, and you can’t take it seriously for a second. But it’s also ridiculously, gloriously, stupidly entertaining, if you’re in the right mood."
– Steve Pond, The Wrap
"The movie is Refn’s 'Black Swan,' his 'Mulholland Dr.,' his 'All About Eve,' his 'Death Becomes Her' and his 'Suspiria' rolled into one. It's got gold body paint, menstrual hallucinations, cannibalism, lesbian necrophilia and Keanu Reeves. It’s bewitching to behold, with its surreal strobe effects and static, fashion-shoot-style compositions, and bewitching to listen to, with its nightmarish synth-on-stilettos score by Cliff Martinez. It's banal, ludicrous, thuddingly one-note and — once you adjust to its narcotic rhythms — entirely mesmerizing."
– Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times
"When the film reaches its logical end point, Refn just keeps pushing, and eventually lands on a sequence so jaw-dropping – almost certainly a sly, glossy-magazine refashioning of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s groundbreaking surrealist short Un Chien Andalou – that all you can do is howl or cheer. The audience at Cannes weren’t sure which to go for. You might not be either."
- Robbie Collin, The Telegraph, 5 stars
Refn’s latest and best, The Neon Demon, is the culmination of his decades-long fascination with human nature in its darkest, most destructive form. It is – predictably, reliably – a gorgeous, arresting work which holds a (vanity) mirror up to modern society’s corroded moral core.
– Adam Woodward, Little White Lies, 5 stars