[Movie Review] NEON LIGHTS

[Movie Review] NEON LIGHTS
Courtesy Momentum Pictures
The days of movies being so clearly black and white are gone. I don’t mean how movies use color now, though, we will talk about that later. Rather the idea that morality and humanity are only looked upon as being simply good or evil. As an audience, we crave complex stories with nuanced characters, reflecting the dualities of good and evil. NEON LIGHTS provides exactly that but doesn’t quite hit the mark.

In Rouzbeh Heydari’s NEON LIGHTS, Clay (Dana Abraham) is a genius tech mind who has been thrust into the spotlight after having success with his company. However, between the pressures of business and his past family trauma, he is beginning to crack. Clay opts to take time away and bring his family together at a secluded mansion. Clay, along with his two brothers, was adopted by a man named Denver (Kim Coates).

His brother James (Stephen Tracey) is younger, still immature, and looking to ride the coattails of Clay. His other brother Benny (Rene Escobar Jr.) brings his wife Clarissa (Brit MacRae) and their daughter Blair (Erika Swayze) to the mansion in order to reconnect with Clay who they haven’t seen in many years. Unfortunately, this family reunion doesn’t last long as the haunted memory of their adopted father creates chaos in Clay’s mind. And, as time passes, each of Clay’s family members starts to be in serious danger.

While the characters and story are complex and nuanced, those traits begin to muddle this story. I sympathized with Clay’s anxiety and eccentricity in the early minutes of the film, but he becomes controlling, narcissistic, and cowardly. Obviously, those aren’t the kind of traits anyone would call heroic or lovable, but as the credits rolled I didn’t know what to feel, and had the writing been more clear or more effort made to facilitate care towards the characters, I might have wanted to linger in my complex feelings. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough for me to grasp or understand by the end of this film to ponder. This doesn’t feel like a movie that leaves you interpreting it five different ways and reading Reddit theories at 1 AM. Ultimately, these characters aren’t memorable enough for that.

Courtesy Momentum Pictures

I don’t mean to say that the acting isn’t memorable though. Dana Abraham’s Clay makes me uncomfortable, yet I want to help him. He is clearly troubled even in his composure. Abraham transformed himself into this character all the way down to his walk and his apprehensive arm clenching. He and Erika Swayze’s Blair have a fantastic moment on the porch of the mansion discussing purpose and leisure through their discomfort. It’s one of the best scenes of the film and truly highlights both actors.

Of the rest of the cast, I’d say Rene Escobar Jr.’s Benny stands out. The polar opposite of Clay, Benny carries himself as the head of the family even though his relationships are distanced and broken, including the one he has with his own daughter. Escobar Jr. plays him well enough that you can understand the history he and Benny had as children growing up and why the two might be at odds with each other despite Clay’s generosity.

Visually, it’s never explained why every room within the mansion is lit with different colors. I guess we can just point to Clay being eccentric, but the “why” doesn’t matter when NEON LIGHTS looks so stunning. The colors pop in every scene and each room of the home has such a uniqueness. Other locations in the film are also rich with textures and colors. This world is vibrant but still lived in. The camera work is also interesting, using the colors and lights to help create shots that mix terror with beauty. When people use the term “cinematic” these are the types of visuals I think of.

The visuals and acting carry NEON LIGHTS, but the story itself is a bit of a mess. It’s complex, which is nice, but its complexity doesn’t leave me with much desire to root for any characters. This includes the protagonist that I thought I would be rooting for during the first act. Ultimately, I was left confused and uninterested in pursuing much thought of the film once the credits rolled.

NEON LIGHTS brings its colors to theaters beginning July 12, 2022.

Josh Taylor
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