THE NEON DEMON: The reviews are in!

Nicolas Winding Refn’s new film The Neon Demon premiered overnight in Cannes to the usual Refn reception: yelling at the screen, booing and of course five star reviews.

Refn is certainly knowing for provoking strong reactions in his audience. When Only God Forgives was released at Cannes it too had a very strong reaction, so if this is anything to go by then it seems Refn has once again sent the Cannes Film Festival aflutter.

Here’s what the critics are saying:

Only someone in Refn’s league can create something so ridiculous and then stare you down with it. There is an outrageous scene where the women are made to parade around in their underwear so that an elaborately callous designer (Alessandro Nivola) can assess their runway “walk”. It reminded me a little of the 90s TV show Veronica’s Closet, about a lingerie company based on Victoria’s Secret: a premise which allowed them to get away with showing attractive young women in their bra and pants.


Is it simply the case that Refn can’t resist indulging his ego while administering shots of cheap titillation? It’s true he has a habit of deploying sexually-charged flash grenades that seem designed, first and foremost, to stun you into submission. It’s also true that he gets a kick out of eliciting precisely this reaction – say by having his protagonist pummel another man to mulch in the close confines of an elevator, or another crawl into the open belly of his freshly disemboweled mother. But it would be remiss to reject The Neon Demon as a work of empty provocation. Because as you start to digest the visceral images streaming forth from Refn’s subconscious onto the screen, whether you’re aroused or repulsed (and these responses are by no means mutually exclusive), there’s never the sense that he is out purely to satisfy his own impulses.


Refn treats these characters not as people but as pop objects, and what he builds around them isn’t a suspense film so much as an anything-goes dream play. He sucks up influences like an aesthetic vacuum cleaner — not just Lynch and Kubrick (his two most obvious wanna-be gods) but Dario Argento, the David Cronenberg of “Crash,” and even Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona.” There’s a sequence set at a nightclub that features a neon triangle composed of three smaller triangles, and a duplicated image of three Jesses (one of whom kisses herself), and it may inspire two thoughts at once: “Wow, that’s pretty cool!” and “WTF is going on?”


A glittering, etherised nightmare, drenched in cold sweat, with a dark, coiled-panther energy that springs at you in fitful, snarling bursts.


Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.