Saturday, July 2, 2016

What Big Teeth - The Neon Demon Review

The Neon Demon is not exactly what I expected. Maybe I should have, but I didn't. I really only saw the trailer and thought all that glitter and blood looked like something made specifically for me. I didn't really do any research before watching it.

Spoilers ahead.

There came a point while watching this movie that I felt bad for dragging Xian to the theater with me. I'd thought about going by myself and after a while, I really started to wish I had. I actually leaned over to him and whispered and apology to him.

It's not that the movie was bad. It was just... really fucking weird.

So, it's about a girl who wants to be a model and moves to the big city and gets eaten alive. Like, that's it. But the movie takes a long time to get there. Or, anywhere, really. Like, this was maybe a really great short film, but it seemed pretty sparse for feature length.

There's a lot of symbolism and metaphor. Which is cool. I mean, I dig that kind of stuff. But there's so much that I got pretty lost. Like, is this a supernatural movie? Magical realism? Surrealism? Giallo? I don't fucking know. Probably the last two.

The characters are all pretty thin and blank with very little insight given about their motivations. Actually, maybe that's not true. Near the beginning, Ruby (Jenna Malone) asks Jesse (Elle Fanning) if she's "food or sex". Then, when Jesse turns down Ruby's sexual advances, Ruby eats her. So, I guess there's some motivation there. But it doesn't really feel like we get very deep. And there's no real character to follow. I spent most of the beginning of the movie trying to figure out who was the demon (everyone, is the answer). But there's not ever anyone to side with. Even Dean (Karl Glusman), the sweet boyfriend guy, is a little dodgy. He knows that Jesse is barely sixteen, but he's still ready to get romantic with her.

We get definite shades of Elizabeth Bathory and Red Riding Hood. The character named Ruby is, at several points in the movie, shown near taxidermy wolves and cougars. Ruby, Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee) not only eat Jesse, but they also bathe in her blood. Those metaphors, I get.

But then there's so much other stuff going on. Like, Ruby is a make-up artist for the living and the dead. I feel like that's important, but I'm not really sure what it means. I wonder if Sarah actually did try to drink Jesse's blood in that public restroom after the casting call or if that was some sort of... I dunno. Visual metaphor or something?

Surrealism is kind of lost on me, I think.

The movie is stunningly beautiful. I'm glad I saw it in the theater. The cinematography is brilliant. There are a lot of chances for the camera to sexualize the girls, to do that gratuitous body pan or focus on the boobs or butt, but it never comes to that. I really appreciate that. It's also worth noting that, while the male characters are clearly in control, great pains are taken to make them not rapey, except for Hank (Keanu Reeves). All the damage done to the girls is done by the girls.

Which is a thing that happens a lot. The idea that women are constantly in competition with each other. I mean, okay, I get it. This is set in the fashion world. And it's about people being eaten. It's about the value of beauty. People move mountains to get to something valuable. We make earthquakes to get to oil because it's valuable. So, Jesse gets destroyed by people mining her beauty. I get it.

My SO and I actually kind of got into about it this because I felt like the sparse narrative stayed a bit too neutral about this. As far as I can tell, two of the three girls who ate Jesse were just fine. But I could be wrong. Sarah didn't do so well. But it seems like Gigi probably goes on with the photoshoot like a rock star. And Ruby... fuck, I dunno. I mean, she was bleeding like a birth gone wrong, but she looked orgasmic. And I don't really feel like we need more movies about how shitty women are to each other.

You could say that the neutrality started an interesting conversation. Or you could say it started a fight. Both are equally accurate. I just feel like, especially in the horror community, it would be so easy to nod and say, "Yeah, women are crazy".

Let me be clear. I think people should make the art they want to make. It is no single person's job to fix the problems of how tropes are dealt with in media. But as a person who has to deal with this shit constantly, I'm sorta done with it. I'm not really up for having academic conversations about this because I've been living with it for thirty-four years and I'm just really tired, man. I wish there had been a way to make this allegory work without sacrificing women at the altar of catty bitches.

I'm not going to give this a numerical value. I'm not upset that I saw it, but I would also really hesitate to tell anyone to go see it. I'm pretty certain none of my friends would be into it. But, you know, if you're into Lynchian films, maybe you'll see all the stuff I missed.

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