FRIGHTFEST PREMIERE REVIEW: Neon
– By Allan Lear
There are many reasons why a film might emerge from the long process of production in a condition of total and absolute incomprehensibility. Sometimes a script will have been redrafted so many times, and by so many people, that all trace of the original conception has been buried under layers of fresh paint. Sometimes production or budgetary problems will have scuppered the ability of the film-makers to get their ideas across. Sometimes, of course, the initial idea will simply have been irredeemable gibberish in the first place.
Sometimes there’s another reason why a film might not make a lick of sense to the audience; sometimes it’s because the film-makers have trusted the audience to fill in a few gaps without having to have every single little thing spelt out to them, and the audience is simply not trying hard enough.
Neon is a short film from Joker’s Pack Productions. It’s about the difficulties of finding romance when you’re a hitman for an organised gang…and it’s also not about that in any way at all, but that’s probably the best way of explaining the plot without bursting it asunder. Like a Philip K Dick novel, this film bears no relation to any attempt at summarising it. About half of it was written by the director, Mark J Blackman, and the other half exists solely in your head, where you’re supposed to reorganise the fractured timeline and build a solid edifice of story out of the dialogue, the visuals, and a lot of fragmented cultural knowledge that you need to have acquired over the years.
In a way, there’s something pleasingly old-fashioned about Neon. I don’t mean in the effects, which are used sparingly but effectively to make the best of a short film budget; nor in the cinematography, which is, I think, deliberately somewhat Ridley Scottish; nor in the acting, which is comes mainly from eminently capable leads Joe Absolom and Kerry Bennett but which – unusually and gratifyingly for a small production – is wholly believable from the entire ensemble, down to the smallest role. No, what’s old-fashioned about this piece is that it’s that rarest of things, a demanding film. You can’t watch Neon with Facebook going on your iPad and Snapchat on the phone, because if you try that then you’ll walk away without the first idea of what happened. It demands that you pay close attention and, having done that, it has the further cheek to expect you to figure out the meaning of the denouement for yourself.
In fact, if I were to be brutally honest, I’d have to admit that fear of spoiling the plot is only part of the reason I won’t describe it to you. The other part is that there is still a niggling doubt in my mind that I might have completely misunderstood what was going on, and that if I try to describe the film in public then Blackman might find out and call me a moron in the comments. I’m pretty sure I’ve got it figured out – having checked some of the end credits to make sure I had the timeline straight – but there’s still that ticklish worry that I might have been watching it while under the influence of being dense.
To steal a phrase from the author Tibor Fischer: don’t watch this film if you are stupid. Seriously, don’t. You won’t enjoy it, and you’ll clog up the internet with endless whinging commentary on why you didn’t like it, and none of what you say will be in literate English and that’s more dead weight in the terabytes of information glut we all carry around with us in our pockets. Leave this film alone and watch all the American Pie films again instead. This is not a film that is made with the thick in mind, and it makes no concession to the scatterbrained or the intoxicated. Watch this film when sober, and even then, watch it only if you are a clever person who likes clever things, done well.
– By Allan Lear