A model takes the LA fashion scene by storm, attracting unsavory characters.
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, and Bella Heathcoate
Review by Jon Kissel
Nicolas Winding Refn works at two opposite poles, with raw crime stories at one end and deliberately frosty exercises in audience estrangement at the other. Whether he’s making Drive or Valhalla Rising, there’s always going to be a mostly silent protagonist surrounded by people Refn largely doesn’t like and a lot of red, both in the lighting or as an aftereffect from some grotesque act of violence. For the Danish director’s 10th film, The Neon Demon is a balanced medium between what makes him compelling and frustrating. It tells a coherent story with recognizable people in it, but it also contains surrealist touches that are included because why the hell not. A film set in fashion and modeling is going to have the requisite amount of style and misanthropy, because making fun of the fashion world is low hanging fruit. That I can describe a film with corpse fondling and cannibalism as middle-of-the-road suggests what kind of filmmaker Refn is.
Darren Aronofsky is a director who lives in the extremity of human experience, for good and ill. Something like Requiem for a Dream tracks the depths that people are willing to descend to for their narrow definition of happiness, while his self-described Perfection duo, The Wrestler and Black Swan, are both about performers dedicated to feats of physical excellence despite the damage this does to their psyches and bodies. He’s also an obvious devotee of body horror master David Cronenberg, a guy who made his bones by taking the psychological ailments of his characters and manifesting them in decaying flesh and pulsing tumors. Black Swan is Cronenbergian body horror shot through with Aronofsky’s bravura directorial flourishes, a film about transformation and transcendence that includes breathtaking moment after breathtaking moment. It’s also campy and melodramatic and soapy, and maybe sexist depending how one views it. Nine years after its release, Black Swan is still a thrilling and powerful watch that holds up cinematically even as I wonder if it holds up thematically.
Raw is one of those films that engenders visceral reactions in its viewers. Its showings have apparently resulted in the paramedics being called in after audience members have fainted. Even the trailer dares the viewer to look away. As the latest entry into the company of the French Extremity genre, along with gorefests like Martyrs and Gaspar Noe's nightmare landscapes, Raw deserves its grotesque reputation, but it is not solely going for cheap thrills. Julia Ducournau's intense but heady film is a feast for the eyes, as oddly beautiful and entrancing as a story about a sheltered veterinary student's cannibalistic awakening could possibly be. Ducournau throws down a challenge to stomach her work and an invitation to experience it. Both are worth accepting.
Kevin Smith’s an acquired taste and for all intents and purposes, seems to be a charming and introspective guy. Coming onto the cinematic scene at the same time as other hyper-loquacious indie directors like Richard Linklater and Quentin Tarantino, he spent his first ten years churning out interconnected comedies that were by turns filthy and eloquent. He also might be a prime example of the truism that a person spends their whole life creating their first thing, and then struggles to replicate it thereafter. Smith’s debut, Clerks, is great, and everything else has lived in its micro-budget shadow. This is especially true with Tusk. The last decade of Smith’s career has found him trying to break away from raunch and into genre with cop buddy comedies and cult shootouts, and Tusk is his largely unsuccessful body horror attempt.
On our recent Best of 2018 So Far podcast, I raved about The End of the Fucking World. It’s by accident that I saw what is still one of my favorite TV series of the year before I saw I Am Not a Serial Killer. These are essentially the same pieces of fiction. A teen male who is sure he’s a sociopath bides time until the inevitable moment when he makes his first kill, but he discovers what it means to follow through on those impulses and that he doesn’t have to be like the people that do so. The lesson that brain chemistry is not destiny is a powerful one that the species has had to continually remind itself of, and it’s something pitched at my wavelength due to my preference for both skepticism and liberalism. However, I Am Not a Serial Killer is no End of the Fucking World thanks to its own choices of who the villain is and what the viewer is supposed to feel about him. It doesn’t believe that sociopathy is interesting enough on its own, and needlessly spices things up with the supernatural.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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