Perverted, bizarre, grotesque, pointless, self indulgent.
These are the kind of words you’ll be most likely find beside a review of this film. And with that, no doubt Nicolas Winding Refn will feel all the more validated.
When you know the rules of cinema you either spend your career strictly adhering to them or brazenly trying to ignore them. Many might think Refn is doing the latter but I’m not so sure.
Here we open with Jesse(good work here from Elle Fanning), a teenage wannabe supermodel, willing to be seen dying for her dream. Her faux blood sacrifice a mere appetiser for what’s to follow. A small town girl who has seemingly got the midnight train into L.A looking to get on the covers of some magazines. Sounds pretty traditional thus far.
She meets a make-up artist and some supermodel friends who actually turn out hating her out of fear and jealousy. But Jesse has a bit of fight in her, punchy little thing that she is.
There are cameos from such luminaries as Christine Hendricks, Keanu Reeves and the guy who played Pollax in Face Off( he also played a half decent footballer in Goal)
The plot drifts away a fair bit, hinting at the fact that Refn was particularly bored that morning he wrote the third act over his liver and kidney beans. Or perhaps it was that he realised his lead character has done little to deserve so much screen time and that he should have put more eggs in the make-up artist’s basket (Jena Malone very good here) None of this matters if you’re a fan of his oeuvre. If you are a fan, you’re wishing it was another hour long, if you’re not you probably sneaked out to watch something else.
To overanalyse any Refn film’s script is akin to creating a job for yourself where there is no market. His films have hitherto been very low on complicated narrative, lower still on creating little or any empathy for his characters( the fleeting and oftentimes humiliating career of a fashion model notwithstanding). You’d think for all that I’d hate the guy but I just don’t!
Once again the visuals are on song here. Lots of red. Lots of vacuous, classical staples of American cinema( full moon wolf symbolism, diners with simple minded waitresses, restaurants, empty swimming pools) but also nods to European horror, both literary and cinema. I can live with the deliberate lens’ flares here as I think this might a subtle metaphor for perfect imperfection…or something. But apart from that, every shot looks like something you’d hang on your wall. Admittedly, you’d have to be into some weird shit for this to happen but it’s a very weird world.
So yeah it’s gonna be adored by a few, misunderstood by many more. I wasn’t crazy about it. But I’m so glad he’s able to make stuff like this. He’s a unique talent.