A glamorous woman lies on a couch, her throat apparently cut, awash with blood. Techno music swells. Nothing happens. The music continues. Still nothing happens. The camera dwells on the woman. Hours pass.
You sometimes sit down to watch a movie and feel your heart sink during the opening scene. Rarely have I felt that sensation so intensely as in the opening sequence to “Neon Demon”. Did someone lose the editing scissors? Did no-one say: “Let’s cut this scene from three minutes to 10 seconds in case the audience loses the will to live”? If not, why not?
The premise of “The Neon Demon” sounds promising. A staggeringly beautiful young model comes to LA. In seconds, she is the hottest property in town. Other models become jealous and seek bloodcurdling revenge while engaging in acts of taboo sex. Set this against a background of skimpily dressed models, catwalks, more models, exotic sets and lots of gooey fake blood, and what could possibly go wrong?
(i) the story is beyond cliched. So cliched, in fact, as to generate fragments of unintentional hilarity. At a climactic moment involving a regurgitated (but miraculously intact) eyeball, my cinema audience burst into laughter;
(ii) the gore obsession of the director is eerily reminiscent of Monty Python’s splendid 1972 Salad Days and equally realistic;
(iii) the characters are as three-dimensional as cigarette paper. It’s impossible to care about a naive newcomer, experienced hellcats, a spooky motel boss or a hard-bitten photographer. At one point our heroine says “My mother used to call me dangerous… she was right: I am dangerous”. But at no point in the movie does she exhibit any dangerous attributes whatsoever, apart from the ability to bore audiences to death;
(iv) the acting is either part of a new robotic school of which I know nothing, or is sub-children’s nativity play. Everyone intones their lines as if they’re wondering if they’ve left the gas on at home. The parallels with Joey Tribbiani’s “smell the fart” acting in Friends are uncanny;
(v) every scene lasts eight times too long. When the heroine does a catwalk, she hallucinates and sees a fluorescent shape in the air (some reviews say this never-explained object is the eponymous “Neon Demon”), while techno music drones. We zoom in on her face. We see the shape again. More facial close-ups. Nothing happens. More close-ups… Soon you’re begging for the editing shears if only to slash your own wrists;
(vi) much like spoof spy-flick Kingsman with its disturbing ultra-violent church massacre or exploding brains scene, The Neon Demon seems unsure whether it’s sexploitation; schlock horror; surreal (what is that mountain lion doing in the bedroom?) or what. Result: a mess.
I honestly never thought I’d see an exploitation pic which makes the cult-awful Showgirls look classy, but it’s happened. The Neon Demon makes Showgirls look like Shakespeare. That’s an achievement.
For: some sharp-focused glamour scenes featuring stereotypical model-type women.
Against: plotless, gormless, pointless – and worst of all, boring.