Title: Neon Lights (2022) Director: Rouzbeh Heydari Writer: Dana Abraham // Rouzbeh Heydari Studio: Red Hill Entertainment // Momentum Pictures IMDb Plot: Tech tycoon, Clay Amani, retreats to an off the grid location in search of meaning and peace, with disconnected siblings and their offspring, only to be caught in a bone-chilling killing spree. Joe Says: This could have been a Sixth Sense-style debut. Instead, Neon Lights is ironically a dark slog of confusion, repetition, and poorly-directed, annoying characters.
Digital tools have given a new breed of filmmakers the access to create visually slick, streaming-ready movies all on credit card budgets. Unfortunately, many of these unestablished directors are overlooking the well-honed craft of actual story making. Yes, these new movies might look great, but there has to be substance backing up that style. A recent example is Neon Lights, directed with colorful flair by Rouzbeh Heydari who boldly attempts a Shyamalan-worthy little kick. Regrettably, what comes before that concluding zinger is a confusing mess – one that could have been avoided with a stronger script.
And better acting.
Neon Lights is a psychological horror slow burn. Tech CEO Clay Amani is on the verge of a breakdown. In an attempt to relax and refocus, he arranges a family reunion with his adopted siblings only to see events go horribly, murderously, crazy.
Dana Abraham pulls double duty on writing and acting. His portrayal of ready-to-snap Clay is full of feverish anxiety that no doubt came from watching The Shining on repeat while chugging Red Bull. Clay, as a character, works. His surrounding situation does not. Why does an overworked CEO wish to escape it all by spending time with his estranged – and woefully-cliché- family? And when the story devolves into slasher-flick fare, what is the impetus for the murderous action? Other than, you know, to simply get the younger brother to shut up. These questions are never explored.
And never answered. This slow burn fizzles.
This slow burn fizzles.
The mystery within tries to build – unsuccessfully. There is no suspense. There is no ticking-clock. Even the veiled threat of a killer on the loose is mostly ignored. Kim Coates plays the devil-in-your-ear with all the hammy force he can muster but such talents are wasted as Clay’s mumbling grounds any potential conflict into dust. The finale offers answers but even that Big Reveal is mostly a cough of an aside.
Take note: non-linear editing alone cannot substitute a lackluster plot or amateurish acting.
Heydari plays a visual tug-of-war between stressed-out reality and chaotic illusions but neither struggle is engaging. A mysterious man with a tux hides in the shadows but his threats are loudly impotent. This could have been a Sixth Sense-style debut. Instead, Neon Lights is ironically a dark slog of confusion, repetition, and poorly-directed, annoying characters.