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Dan Bernardi
[intro-text size=”25px”]Tired of the same monotonous review schemes, I volunteered for a series of alternative, high-tech experimental procedures. Monitored by the Director and crew, I am mentally displaced and implanted into a myriad of cinematic simulations, or “cims”. Fully absorbed for the duration of each run time, the sole mission is to report my findings from within the scenes. These reports are known as Total Review.[/intro-text]

– CIM #1007 – “The Neon Demon” – 117 mins. – release: June 24th, 2016 –

I rush to the lab eager to feast my brain on Nicholas Winding Refn’s newest creation The Neon Demon. An exceptionally eclectic Director, Refn took me to some darkly poetic places with his Pusher trilogy, Bronson, and Drive, my personal favorite of his. As they prep me for the cim in the black, sterile theater lab, I’m warned by a technician of potentially disturbing themes and graphic imagery. I told him that’s my bread and butter. He smirked, lowered my visor, and activated the injector. The cim begins.

Before I can even figure out who I am, the first thing I notice is the pumping electro rhythm looming over me, sparking curiosity… and fear. As I’m whisked into a bare-bones photography studio, the music intensifies and I’m staring at the bloody, lifeless corpse of a beautiful female model Jesse. I tear my eyes away from this grim, expertly crafted composition to get a look at myself, and realize that I too am a beautiful female model, and I’m suddenly transfixed by L.A.’s cutthroat high fashion modeling world.

Quickly I learn that Jesse isn’t dead, but participating in a rather gory photo shoot, set-up by her new found friend and photographer Dean. I’m glad Jesse’s not dead. I like her. She’s sweet and innocent. And Dean’s a nice guy too. At the studio, we meet Ruby in the green room. She’s seen it all, and has a warmly welcoming personality, unlike just about everyone else in this town. Ruby takes us to a night club with her friends Gigi and Sarah, also models, both overtly catty, jealous, and competitive. Both are serious haters and slowly I’m becoming a hater too.

I trust no one, surrounded by unlikable people, obsessed with looks, glory, fame… Things that really aren’t important in my book. That’s why it’s sad to watch Jesse go down that road. She’s the “it girl”. She’s got what everyone wants- natural beauty. Agents and designers are willing to bend rules and break laws to put her in the spotlight, but she’s too young for this, too naive. Before long Jesse starts adapting the same values of her peers and we begin to watch her metamorphosis. It’s not pretty, and I watch one of my only allies slip away to he dark side.

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I don’t mind spending time with a parade of backstabbing assholes; I’ve kept worse company in past cims, but these people are monsters in a too realistic way, and something deeply sinister is going on here. I slither through the most glamorous, seedy parts of L.A., taking in the sights and sounds. All the visuals here pop in front of me. Aesthetically tailored, juxtaposing the luxurious allure of style culture with its inextricable rotten core. What the hell is wrong this town? Are they psychos? Vampires? Or just truly terrible people? And why did I get that bizarre explicit content warning?

I eventually got all my answers in a string of uncomfortable situations, teeming with some of the most sadistic and unspeakably taboo shit I’ve seen in years. By the time the cim ends, I’m relieved to exit that world. The people sucked and the clothes were too tight. I’m not entirely sure what the message is behind this mash-up of hypnotic imagery and thematic grime, other than to reaffirm the danger lurking behind such ruthless personalities. The ending can best be described as “fucked up”, which makes me only able to recommend The Neon Demon to Refn-atics, abstract horror fans, and partially demented thrill-seekers. Of course I enjoyed myself, but check it out at your own risk.

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