Director Nicolas Winding Refn, whose latest movies Drive and Only God Forgives triggered passionate but divisive reactions at Cannes in 2011 and 2013, isn't one to shy away from creative risk-taking. This year, he brought The Neon Demon, a visually stunning horror piece, starring Elle Fanning as a model who moves to Los Angeles and gets immediately targeted by a group of women obsessed with her youthful beauty.
The movie reportedly got booed at its premiere at Cannes, but does that necessarily mean we should expect to be disappointed when it comes out on June 24? Not only are there many movies that have been highly successful even after suffering the grunts of Cannes critics, but it seems like the controversy is exactly what Refn was hoping to get.
'All You Can Do Is Howl Or Cheer'
As The Telegraph film critic Robbie Collin points out, the reaction to The Neon Demon was probably expected — and appreciated — by Refn. He goes to explain how the movie could be so divisive in his review:
When the film reaches its logical end point, Refn just keeps pushing, and eventually lands on a sequence so jaw-dropping — almost certainly a sly, glossy-magazine refashioning of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s groundbreaking surrealist short 'Un Chien Andalou' — that all you can do is howl or cheer.
The audience at Cannes weren’t sure which to go for. You might not be either.
'Controversy Is Just Too Good'
In an interview with Indiewire, Refn confirmed he was a controversy lover, and declared himself unruffled by the Cannes booing.
"There's a general fear that if you are not liked, something bad will happen. That's not true. Sometimes things become more interesting. [...] Controversy is just too good, it's fucking great! When you're from the future, for the fools like me, it's like Christmas, it’s just going to be really exciting."
He also opened up about his creative process:
"I always I thrive on fear. I thrive on the idea of doing something that can collapse right in front of me. I love that kind of constant stage of paranoia. At the same time, it forces me to be as sensual as I possibly can, which is a very pleasant experience. Sometimes I even go out of my way to find obstacles, and try to solve that. I thrive on danger creatively, pointing myself in the most difficult direction."
"Sensual" certainly fits The Neon Demon, whose aesthetics were praised even by its detractors: it's "wildly extravagant, impossibly stylish and excessively blood-drenched," according to The Wrap. For The Guardian, "Refn shows real visual style and a willingness to protract wordless scenes into a nightmarish state beyond narrative" — but you'll also have to be ready for necrophiliac masturbation.
So, where will you stand?