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Tag: gore

The Neon Demon (2016)

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Beauty Stab

Nicolas Winding Refn doesn’t know fashion, he doesn’t care about fashion, but most importantly, he doesn’t feel fashion. That’s why he’s copycatting Guy Bourdin in the rare occasions it is given screen time. But of course fashion is the least of The Neon Demon‘s concern. The closer but most elusive domain to cinema, fashion is a mighty beast to tame, and the list is long of directors trying to use it, either as satire or backdrop. Count this movie as another ill-advised foray into the carnivorous industry of youth, beauty, and the predatory behaviours it entails. Oh it’s beautiful to look at, and too clever by half. But it’s a ridiculous movie all the same.

There are a lot of questions to be asked about where Refn’s love for genre will take him at the expense of a coherent cinema. “Do you mind if I use you for that?” is a key phrase, said by a photographer to a model towards the end of the movie. This is definitely a question Refn should have asked Dario Argento before committing his feverish dream about the loss of innocence to film. To be honest, no one has ripped off Argento more shamelessly and unsuccessfully than Argento himself, and before the Suspiria remake hits the theaters next year, The Neon Demon might be the next best thing to the original. But as it the case with fashion, one will argue that Refn doesn’t get Argento either. He knows the notes but does not sing the tune; once again, it is not what interests him here. So, what does? Christianism, apparently, as was the case with Only God Forgives. It makes sense: after the Old Testament comes the New.

For some reason everything seems to be happening in bathrooms/toilets, at least the three best scenes. They play like a Christian allegory. The first one, in a dark club, has the Three Mothers (cleverly?) presented in reverse order, and the Mother of Tears, the most dangerous of all, has Jesse (Elle Fanning perfect as a preraphaelite nymph with porcelain skin), lured her out of her comfort zone and orally dissected by her two sisters, the Mother of Darkness, a top model who proudly lists her cosmetic procedures, and the Mother of Sighs, never the It girl to begin with and therefore on passive-agressive auto-pilot. This is as much temptation as it is a Holy Spirit visitation.

The second scene has Jesse meeting an unfortunate candidate for a runway show after she smashed the ladies room mirror. Jesse attempts to comfort her but is scorned for it. She cuts her hand on the broken glass. What follows is as sudden as it is ghoulish, a communion of sorts which emphasizes what is barbaric, vampiric, in the idea of drinking someone’s blood as a religious rite. In the audition scene itself, starting as the Malcolm McLaren video for Madam Butterfly, the way Refn uses sound is very clever: the models walk, and you can hear their shoes creaking on the white floor of the studio. The designer never looks up. When Jesse walks, there is no such noise pollution, so he has to look up, and she’s cast.

The third bathroom scene is the shocking one, with an apocalyptic blue pattern on the walls and the body horror you might have heard about. It is another hint at communion, in a potent mix of glossy styling and gore. It might also be the most ridiculous way a director as gifted as Refn can take this idea across to his viewers. The scene has to be seen, and can’t be unseen; it is both gross and weirdly disincarnate. The Neon Demon is not sadistic, not even voyeuristic. It makes an earnest attempt at figuring out what it is to be the most beautiful girl in the world, and guesses rightfully that she has to be punished for all the love and lust she inspires. It’s too bad the movie wasn’t shot in Japan as initially intended. Los Angeles is the wrong Petri dish to grow these alien life forms, reduced to one designer, one photographer and one make up artist (Jena Malone, poised even in the movie’s most incongruous foray into exploitation).

There is a thin line between using a genre form for such an aloof purpose and having the rubber, once stretched too far, snapping back in your face. The Neon Demon describes our iconisation of beauty as a pagan cannibalistic cult based on the debasement and consumption of virgins all too willing to sacrifice themselves to the titular demon, a vaginal pentacle devouring them whole at the end of a runway. The virgin thinks she gets a chance at becoming a Holy Trinity of herself, but instead of making her whole the demon slices her up, pixellating flesh and soul alike. There is definitely something Christian in that but, like barocco churches, there is so much imagery at work that it’s all to easy to get lost in looking and missing the point.

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A l’intérieur (Inside – 2007)

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The Boy is Mine

Biblically simple, Inside has only five short expository scenes before The Woman is unleashed to attack The Mother, in a way Jean Eustache had never dreamed of – or have nightmares about when writing La Maman et la Putain. The Mother had a car accident in which she loses her husband, but the baby she’s pregnant with is fine, confirms her obstetrician; she meets an ominous nurse, then her estranged mother on the hospital parking lot. Her boss confirms she’s a a great photographer. Fast forward to almost delivery time, in a suburban home incongruously bearing a 666 address – no French house has such a number, but it displays some ambition from the film makers to transcend their national market. And so they do, in the best French horror movie of its decade.

These initial scenes establish that Alysson Paradis (Vanessa’s younger sister) is unable to act; fortunately what will be required of her in the rest of the movie is to scream, to crawl and be terrorised by The Woman, quite splendidly played by Beatrice Dalle, tapping deep into her inner witch. The Woman wants The Mother’s baby, see, and nothing will stop her to rip it off her womb. There goes a tightly paced, gory thriller not quite any other.

Inside, as its title indicates, is claustrophobic to the point of slapstick. The Mother hardly leaves the bathroom she has found refuge in, mostly being successful in keeping the Woman, well, outside. Various intruders unwillingly come to her rescue – her boss, her mother, a police team featuring a petty thief they have previously arrested – that The Woman dispatches by way of a firearm, a knife, a knitting needle or her weapon of choice, scissors. Big ones. Not that she doesn’t go through hell herself in the process.

The Mother is a survivor because she carries life; The Woman has nothing to lose she hadn’t already. Both will inflict pain on the other, until the brilliant – and utterly logic, for once – finale, playing like an atrocious fairy tale. Inside is “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”, to quote Mary Shelley about Lord Byron. It’s definitely no date movie, or if it is, one of you puppies is definitely sick. Highly recommended.

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The Veil (2016)

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Nightmare on Nail Street

A grim answer to the question “What the heck happened to Jessica Alba?”, The Veil starts with a blasphemous mass and ends with a crucifixion. Heavily relying on the Jim Jones’ mass suicide with just a dash of the Manson family, it mixes classic cinematography with post-modern seasoning, found footage (please Lord, make it STOP!) and an unreliable narrator. Mix the whole in a Cabin in the Woods environment (after carefully expunging all said movie’s clever bits and voilà, here’s your bad movie of the week. You watch what is filmed of the characters; you watch what the characters film; you also watch a lot of the characters watching the movie they found. Call it meta if you wish. One calls it crap.

Sarah Hope, natch (Lili Rabe, of American Horror Story‘s fame, here given absolutely nothing to do) is the sole survivor of Heaven’s Veil, a cult led by Jim Jacobs (Tomas Jane, hamming it up as if the world was really about to end). Maggie Price, natch (Jessica Alba) wants to shoot a documentary on the massacre, because her father, an FBI agent, committed suicide after such an horror happened on his watch. She has a crew, which bears no importance whatsoever since they will all die anyway. OK. Let’s share a moment of non-nonsense approach now, shall we?

So: jump scares (at least 6), rocking chair, moth, whispering ghosts, scary doll, spiritualism seance, demonic mumbo-jumbo, torch lights running out of battery, no cellphone coverage. All checked. Everything that could possibly go wrong does so from the start, but the characters are real troopers, so they carry on. Also, they are dumb as doorknobs. Wait a minute, no cymbal-crashing monkey?

For some reason, there is ONE videotape, labeled “Experiment 23”, and it’s grainy as hell, but all the rest is shot in glorious Super 8 Cinemascope, immaculately edited, of course. What Experiment 23 shows makes no sense whatsoever to what will follow, but they all get hooked on it like a 20$ hoe on her first crack pipe. “We need to watch the rest of these films”, someone says. NOOOOOO! RUUUUUUN!

Not to spoil much, but Jim Jacobs aims at retrieving the three nails of the Cross to acquire eternal life, a project absolutely as legit as ruling the world via the creation of a social network or creating new California property development land through an earthquake. Jesus was nailed to the Cross, so the spirit is nailed to the body, you know. Of course you do.

Embarassed by so many references it would be pedantic and tedious to list them, movie pedestrianly proceeds to its bitter end. FBI has ESP. Sarah is not what she seems to be. Jessica Alba gets immortal the hard way. Now let’s all have a quizz: why is that thing called The Veil? Oh, rutabaga.

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