The Neon Demon
In this week's podcast the Hermanos talked about whether The Neon Demon is a giallo, and this concept has been brought up throughout the discourse on this film.
Is The Neon Demon America's answer to the giallo?
Genre is an intriguing subject within all artforms. It's something that bridges the line between objectivity and subjectivity. We all know a genre. Action, romance, comedy, or if you're reading this: horror.
However, when you try and focus on a genre, wrestle it to the floor, pin it down and work out exactly what makes it the thing it is, it becomes messy. For instance, let's take a look at Evil Dead 2.
The film is a classic horror. A cabin in the woods, young chiselled Americans being hunted by demonic forces. It’s also one of the funniest films out there taking inspiration from The Three Stooges (Ed: inspiration taken even further with Army of Darkness).
We could take another horror like the Last House on the Left. Another iconic film in the horror cannon but entirely different. It’s a disturbing look at some truly uncomfortable subjects with some harrowing scenes dealing with assault.
It also tries to be funny, but is such a strange misstep when considering the content that the rest of the film covers.
To me, Evil Dead 2 is a horror comedy (one of the finest), but Last House on the Left is just a horror. There are comedy elements in it, but I would never consider this to be a horror comedy. I see the attempted comedic elements as a weird diversion, a momentary lapse into a strange pointless space.
In fact, until attempting to write this I had forgotten that the Last House on the Left even attempted to be funny.
And yet, there are sure to be people out there who would classify it differently, that’s because a genre works on objective recognisable elements and also subjective opinions and classifications.
Therefore, with this said, why am I so confident that The Neon Demon is not the American answer to the giallo? Especially when so many others have attempted to define it as such.
The Neon Demon is a film clearly inspired by Dario Argento’s giallo masterpiece Suspiria. The mise-en-scène is an ode to the iconic wall of colour and sound that haunts the Markos Dance Academy.
Even the story has similar elements to Suspiria. An aspiring model Jesse moves to a new city to pursue her dream career. Is easily comparable to Suzy Bannion in Suspiria moving to Germany to train as a ballet dancer.
Both Jesse and Suzy are enveloped by a strangely disconnected, dreamlike world where characters either have so little emotion or are full to the brim of one emotion in particular.
Both of our protagonists also become connected to a coven of women who feed of youthful energy and must confront this coven to have any attempt at surviving.
The direction, the story, the characters, the performances, the world are all so similar. And yet, this all part of why this film does not feel like a giallo.
Giallo is a rich and deep genre that developed from a literary tradition of translating early English and American literature such as the work of Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. This in turn was developed by Italian writers attempting their own Poe and Conan style stories.
As cinema and filmmaking developed, these popular giallo stories of crime and mystery were then created for film.
Blood and Black Lace, Torso, Deep Red, Suspiria.
Largely Italian cities, Italian directors, women being slaughtered, high fashion, black gloves gripping knives. These are the bullet points we remember of the genre, but it is rich with a history and a unique cultural development.
The Neon Demon is lacking in this sense of evolution. It looks and sounds like a fine ode to Suspiria, but that is where the overtures to giallo cease.
There is no mystery to The Neon Demon. There is no gloved hand slicing through women (thankfully). It is Suspiria fed through a filter and brought to America in the form of a story about how vacant and cutthroat the model world is.
This is not a giallo. It is at best an attempt at remaking Suspiria before they did actually remake Suspiria.