The Neon Demon (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Three films in now, the partnership of Nicholas Winding Refn and Cliff Martinez is seeming as solid as Martinez’ long-running association with Steven Soderbergh. And just as with the last film Martinez’ score nearly saved an almost unwatchable load of style-over-content (Only God Forgives) that’s pretty much the case here with this score to the film, The Neon Demon. To be fair to Demon it offers more – and is better – than Only God Forgives. But it fails harder given that it sets up something promising across its slow, purposeful first half. The Kubrick-like lens creates an expectation and a strange path is then chosen. The second syllable of allegory seems to be the focus. A shame.
Still, in the steely blue world of Martinez soundtracks The Neon Demon shines – and might be the best example yet of a set of movie-sequence cues that can live on outside and away from the film. I’ve been listening to this since before I saw the movie – I’m a Martinez fan, I even own some soundtracks he’s created and have yet to see the movies but if I’m writing about the scores I usually wait until I’ve seen the accompanying images.
The cold, electro pulse of The Neon Demon’s music perfectly frames these haunting images where dialogue is buried, forgotten, ignored – hardly ever required.
There’s a tiny touch of a hip-hop feel to elevate some of these pieces too, giving them a shape. Even some pop-life is instilled (Messenger Walks Among Us) which culminates in Sia’s closing track, Waving Goodbye. There are a couple of other non-Martinez cuts here, Julian Winding’s The Demon Dance is Martinez on full John Carpenter overdrive. It’s fantastic and you’d believe it was just something from the main film composer, but the electro-pop slice of fuzzy sleaze, Mine, by Sweet Tempest brings to mind The Kills. And it’s a fun deviation from the instrumental snippets.
Most of the feel of the score is something very sci-fi, that’s part of Winding Refn’s Kubrick-ian world here, to take the contemporary LA and this story of an underage model and to make the characters and the place feel alien, if not ugly. So this icy, synth treacle helps to set that in place.
I was disappointed with the film in the end despite giving it the best go and hoping for more than I got – but the music delivers. It lives on away from the film. It has moments where the heart almost stops, it has moments where you feel yourself falling under the spell – drifting, no longer focussed on time or place. It transcends in the way that only the best film scores can.