Neon Days: Review

Neon Days: Review

By Jack Hawkins.

Only some kind of psychopath would enjoy trashing a low-budget debut feature; gleefully punching down would reveal no empathy for a young filmmaker’s stress and self-doubt. Neon Days, however, is a film that cannot escape harsh criticism. 

The story follows Jake (Justin Duncan), an introverted skate rink worker who enters therapy to fix his social problems, namely an anxiety around girls. He resembles the angsty stock character that’s resonated with many a young men – from Travis Bickle to Peter Parker – but Jake doesn’t make you feel much at all. He’s a rather lumpen presence in fact, his awkwardness contrived and choreographed. But the modesty of performances is not the immediate concern. Rather, it is the aesthetic, which is that of an intermediate student film.



The grading, or lack thereof, gives everything an amateurish, digital appearance. And then there’s the staging of it all. A bar scene, for example, appears to have been lit by a gaffer holding a 10,000 lumen torch, such is the scorching glare on the actors’ foreheads. Further problems are found in the acoustics. The boom mic sounds as if it’s been submerged in water and the insufferable score resembles the cheap synth of an 8-bit video game. The bursts of indie music are likely to trigger one’s gag reflex, too. 

The technical and aesthetic shortcomings are swiftly joined by weaknesses of script and characterisation. We’re told that Jake’s therapist, Sean (Eric Hanson), is a ‘seasoned’ professional, yet he behaves like a caddish uncle. Sean suggests that Jake pursue his female housemates – which just isn’t advice a shrink would ever give – and when Jake informs him that his housemates are in a lesbian relationship, Sean remarks, “Even better”.

Then there’s the moment were Sean laughs at Jake’s claim that he has testicular cancer, cracking up as if Jake had revealed some sort of obscene, Freudian secret. These attempts to characterise Sean as a roguish maverick just do not ring true, stripping his dynamic with Jake of all credibility.  

The ineptitude continues when we meet Jake’s ice rink colleagues, who are introduced as a rag tag clan of misfits in a sort of Z-grade Edgar Wright montage. Indeed, Neon Days is padded with montages – usually to the aforementioned synth and indie rock – that contain little of interest. Actual conversations between the characters may have brought some much needed character development, but it would most likely just subject the viewer to more contrivance and tumbleweed comedy. 

Stories of small towns and dead-end jobs are the bedrock of the social realist tradition. Unfortunately, a contrived, lacklustre script and sophomoric production values causes Neon Days to be a misfire.


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Jack is a writer and film critic.

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