The ascendancy of Drive from Cannes premiere to mainstream breakthrough to cultural touchstone, however short-lived, seems to have had a significant effect on the cache of its director. Between the mega-success of Drive and the arrival of its follow-up, Refn transitioned from a talent to watch to public enemy No. 1. His interviews are widely and intensely ridiculed. (And, in fairness, describing yourself as "punk rock in all its glam and vulgarity" is a risky move.) His last movie, the neon-swathed Bangkok anti-thriller Only God Forgives, was savaged by critics: "Just about the worst fucking thing I've ever seen," quoth David Edelstein, representatively. Audiences were just as apoplectic. By the time the trailer for his new movie, The Neon Demon, hit social media, people had already started jeering. At Cannes this May reactions ranged from "hypnotic art piece" to, ahem, "putrid atrocity." Even people who like the film a great deal seem slightly embarrassed.
It's hard to know exactly why animosity gathers around a given subject. Maybe we were suspicious that a poseur had become a phenomenon. In any case, today, as The Neon Demon arrives in theaters, the anti-Refn sentiment persists as strong as ever. Until the pendulum of style swings back the other way, it isn't likely he'll have another Drive, a fleeting moment of cinematic cool.