Tag Archives: The Neon Demon

2016 in Review: A Soundtrack


It’s been a while since we did a review of the year’s soundtracks, so we drafted in frequent collaborator Tony Black – and head honcho at the TV and film music podcast Between The Notes – who put down his microphone in favour of writing down his thoughts on the top soundtracks of 2016. Plenty to consider before you vote in this year’s Failed Critics Awards.

Let’s be honest, it’s not been a great year at the movies has it, 2016? Not if you’re a major blockbuster at least. Oddly enough though, the same can’t quite be said for the scores to many of those films, dodgy or otherwise. David Ayer, Zack Snyder or even Scott Derrickson may have let you down, but Michael Giacchino, Clint Mansell or Cliff Martinez have been right on the money with their orchestral scores to some of this year’s most disappointing or divisive pictures.

Here are five scores to the biggest (and not necessarily best) movies that have troubled your multiplex that I consider to be composers close to the top of their respective games:

5 – THE WITCH (Mark Korven)

Just like you probably hadn’t heard of The Witch before early this year, chances are you won’t have heard of Canadian composer Mark Korven. He’s a new kid on the block. Much like how Robert Eggers wowed us with his debut feature, Korven backs him up with a score that drips remote, screeching, primeval terror and the coldness of the austere Puritan setting in which Eggers tells his chilling tale. It’s not Sunday afternoon easy listening, but it’s one of the best horror/chiller scores in years.

Standout track: Caleb’s Seduction

4 – STAR TREK BEYOND (Michael Giacchino)

The new master and heir apparent to John Williams; it’s rare Michael Giacchino has a bad year. After a stonking 2015 scoring a raft of average movies with stunning music, he delivers this year both with Doctor Strange and even more so Star Trek Beyond. It’s his third score for the JJ Abrams spearheaded revival of the classic TV score and it’s possibly his best yet, a heady mixture of iconic, reworked themes with powerful, thrilling brass and an elegant sense of galactic scope. Plus you’ll always have a good laugh at the wonderful puns that litter the names of his cues, as if you needed more of a reason to listen!

Standout track: Night on the Yorktown

3 – 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (Bear McCreary)

You’ve heard Bear McCreary, even if you don’t know his name. Trust me. He scored the excellent Battlestar Galactica remake and it’s his music that forms the memorable title track to The Walking Dead. He’s been much more television based (and continues to be) but in scoring the underrated, Hitchcockian sequel to secret blockbuster Cloverfield, he truly advances to the big leagues with a score one parts mythic, and two parts a gorgeous mesh of dark thriller & Jerry Goldsmith-esque creeping mystique. Even if you don’t love 10 Cloverfield Lane (and you should), it would be a surprise if you don’t end up a little in love with how it sounds by the end.

Standout track: Michelle

2 – THE NEON DEMON (Cliff Martinez)

Following previous partnerships with Nicolas Winding Refn on films such as Drive or Only God Forgives, Cliff Martinez perhaps reaches amongst the peak of his accomplishments with his remarkable and unique work on The Neon Demon. Now, not everyone took to Winding Refn’s garish horror about the fashion industry, but Martinez’s music drips with substance. It often sounds like diamonds falling onto a cold floor, infused with a sense of warped, pulsing disco, underlain with painful violins capturing the tragedy of Elle Fanning’s main character. It’s a stunning piece of work, and remarkable for the fact the standout piece, ‘The Demon Dance’, is a contributing from Julian Winding, the directors brother. If it’s not being played in clubs forevermore, it’ll be a travesty.

Standout track: The Demon Dance

1 – HIGH-RISE (Clint Mansell)

There’s a strong argument that Clint Mansell is the greatest composer on this list discussed today and, after listening to his score for High-Rise, it’s hard to provide a counterpoint. Ben Wheatley’s absurdist, neo-capitalist, period masterpiece and searing critique on Thatcherism may both be the greatest film of 2016 but also have a score to match. Mansell belies his roots as a Midlander growing up in the gaudy, concrete monstrosities of the 60’s & 70’s to deliver an operatic and creeping piece which matches Wheatley’s adaptation of JG Ballard’s commentary. It’s full of brash violins, strong towering themes and an underpinning of controlled mayhem which Mansell explodes outward for effect at just the right moments. Of all these pieces, it’s the score that can be most listened to and enjoyed in isolation. Even in Mansell’s glittering career it’s a standout, possibly career best piece of work.

Standout track: The World Beyond the High Rise

In terms of honourable mentions, a shout out again to Giacchino for Doctor Strange, to Henry Jackman for The Birth of a Nation, the great John Williams for The BFG, Johann Johannson for Arrival, John Ottman for X-Men Apocalypse, Abel Korzeniowski for Nocturnal Animals and John Powell/David Buckley’s collaboration on Jason Bourne. There are more I’ve missed, undoubtedly, from even the honourable mentions, let alone the best of list.

So take a moment to remember than even in a hellish political year, or a largely average one for movies on the screen, the composers behind the music are still delivering work you’ll be listening to for years to come. 2016 does have one saving grace, after all…

Failed Critics Podcast: The Luminous Critics


Welcome to this week’s edition of the Failed Critics Podcast, where hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by special guest Paul Field to tackle a few new releases (and one not-so-new release).

One new release that isn’t reviewed (despite what was suggested on last week’s podcast), due to an administrative cock-up of gargantuan-Stay-Puft proportions, is Ghostbusters. Sorry about that. You’ll just have to tune in again next week.

However, instead, Owen and Steve strived to stay awake long enough during the slog that was The Legend of Tarzan in order to share their thoughts with you all, whilst Paul survived an 80-mile round-trip specifically to see Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest divisive feature, The Neon Demon.

Elsewhere this week:  Steve takes a nostalgia trip all the way back to the mid-90’s for The Bus That Couldn’t Slow Down or Speed Up Fast Enough To Escape the Simpsons Meme (aka Speed);  Paul digs out the best fan-fiction he can find after watching Slash at the Munich Film Festival (and by “best”, he means “smuttiest”);  and Owen endures the micro-budget Amish horror/thriller/mystery/psychological/thing, The Harvesting. Unfortunately for Steve and Paul, it didn’t come with a salad bar and free refills.

The quiz this week was utter chaos – this time thanks to Steve, not Owen! But topical chats were had about Sulu’s sexuality in Star Trek Beyond and the process of delaying or renaming films / TV shows after an unfortunately-timed national tragedy has occurred.

We’ll be back next week to definitely (definitely) review Ghostbusters. Definitely.



The Neon Demon

“True beauty is the only thing that matters.”

Like him or loathe him, Nicolas Winding Refn knows what he likes, knows how to put it on screen and doesn’t care if the audience shares his vision. This was evident with 2013’s Only God Forgives, a film that proved almost as divisive as the UK’s Brexit vote and still has people questioning what the hell was going on to this day. But Refn knew what he wanted to do and couldn’t care less if I liked it or not. The same can most definitely be said for his most recent effort, The Neon Demon.

Fresh to Los Angeles, aspiring model Jesse (Ellie Fanning) finds that her youth and natural beauty help her stand out from the overcrowded industry she’s trying to break in to and quickly gets her a deal with a local agency. Befriending make-up artist Ruby (Jena Malone) and catching the eye of models and designers alike, the new face in the crowd is fast learning how to get what she wants and needs.

But, all this good stuff comes with its fair share of bad. Off of the catwalk and out of the designers fitting rooms, Jesse finds herself on a dark path. Living in a seedy motel with a creepy manager (Keanu Reeves) means she sees and hears things that literally becomes the stuff of her nightmares. With all her fame and beauty comes an army of women looking to take them both from her and leave her carcass for the wolves; and her struggle to keep herself safe and sane is quite possibly going to be her undoing.

Nicholas Winding Refn has definitely taken a step into Lynch territory for his more recent films. But where Only God Forgives felt aimless with very little to say, The Neon Demon most certainly has a point to make. As we watch Jesse simultaneously climb her ladder and lose her innocence, we get the feeling that we are supposed to loathe the people she’s surrounded herself with and the industry she is trying to break in to.

As always, Refn’s direction is absolutely superb. This time around – yes, I’ll keep making comparisons to Only God Forgives – we get a real balance between loud, flashy and neon scenes and those with a simpler palette. Refn’s matador levels of love for the colour red are toned down dramatically from the film’s predecessor, but it is still very much there; making you think you’ve just fallen into a Quasar arena! But it’s not as overpowering as it has been in the past and it doesn’t detract from the film this time around. Every scene makes some sort of sense and it doesn’t feel like it’s been shoehorned in to fill some bizarre fetish. There’s never been any denying Winding Refn’s skills when it comes to putting a gorgeous film together. The Neon Demon is the greatest testament to that.

The performances all-round solidify this film’s quality. From Ellie Fanning’s innocent newcomer transformed to Jena Malone’s wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing make up artist and everyone in between, Refn’s razor sharp script has been done proud by a cast of well known actors and “I’m sure I know them from something” performers alike.

Rounding all this off, Refn has reunited with Drive and Only God Forgives composer Cliff Martinez to put together a soundtrack that will stand out from anything else you hear this year. This synth heavy backing track is what makes The Neon Demon what it is and, I would go so far as to say that, while the film is almost as shallow as its subject matter – done on purpose, I imagine – the soundtrack is where all of the film’s personality lies. Outside of the film, it’s weirdly stimulating and haunting at the same time. I haven’t stopped listening to it since I left the screening!

Bottom line, love it or hate it (and I think there will be plenty of arguments either side) The Neon Demon is a brilliantly put together and scathing look at the LA modelling industry. It’s Winding Refn’s Maps to the Stars and it’s certainly a film that you should be doing everything in your power to watch.