The most geographically appropriate movie-viewing experience I’ve had was seeing Abel Ferrara’s outrageous bad-cop movie Bad Lieutenant in a sketchy Times Square theatre in New York City.

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This article was published 24/6/2016 (1990 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

The most geographically appropriate movie-viewing experience I’ve had was seeing Abel Ferrara’s outrageous bad-cop movie Bad Lieutenant in a sketchy Times Square theatre in New York City.

Put it this way: some of the people in the audience didn’t seem all that removed from the characters on the screen.

So it was with the equally outrageous Nicolas Winding Refn movie The Neon Demon, which I recently saw on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. The film’s atmosphere of beauty and horror, glamour, and squalor somehow hits more potently when you’re breathing the same overheated oxygen as the characters.

Not that the film is in any way reality-based in its depiction of one young woman’s experiences in the beauty business. The young woman in question is Jesse (Elle Fanning), a 16-year-old orphan freshly moved to Los Angeles and advised by model-agency matron Jan (Christina Hendricks) to always claim to be 19. The suggestion is she should be available, age-of-consent-wise, to anyone who wants to take a hand in her rising career.

And sure enough, the men she encounters all seem to have designs on Jesse, her innocence a shiny package to be ripped like so much gift wrap. ("That deer-in-the-headlights thing is exactly what they want right now," she is told.)

Our first view of Jesse sees her languishing on a pristine sofa, blood drenching her throat. It turns out to be staged for a photo shoot conducted by the vaguely sinister photographer Dean (Karl Glusman), an up-and-coming artist who looks downright romantic next to some of the other people Jesse will encounter.

These include Ruby (Jena Malone), a makeup artist equally comfortable applying makeup to models and corpses. She has lascivious designs on our heroine.

Refn, an art-house director best known for his crossover hit Drive, lays on the predator-prey imagery pretty thick, including having a mountain lion invade the cheap Pasadena motel room she rents from a sleazy hotelier played by Keanu Reeves.

Curiously, the serious predators turn out to be women, including a fellow model named Gigi (Bella Heathcote) whose jealousy places Jesse at least as much danger as an intrusive cougar.

While the film has components of sex and violence, do not expect some kind of Brian De Palma-esque thriller. Refn is one for long, lingering takes and slow buildups, steeping the audience in the existential horror of it all. But as unsavoury as the material is — be warned there is a necrophilia scene that makes the pervy 1996 Canadian movie Kissed look like a Disney film — one can’t deny the sheer potency of Refn’s painstakingly composed images, even if the cumulative impact of it all leaves one feeling as empty as the glamourous amazons populating the screen.

Recommended for only the most adventurous of moviegoers, you might consider double-billing The Neon Demon with the Blake Lively-vs.-shark movie The Shallows.

Come to think of it, that title would have worked well just as for this film.

randall.king@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @FreepKing

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Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.