The Neon Demon





Step inside the world of Nicolas Winding Refn...if you dare. The Danish director of such films as Drive, Only God Forgives, and Bronson is an artist that won't flinch. He refuses to budge on any of the style, tone, and narrative choices that he makes in his work. The Neon Demon, his newest exercise, may not be his best (I reserve that title for Valhalla Rising), but it is certainly one of his greatest visual accomplishments and one of the craziest moviegoing experiences audiences could ever have. The Neon Demon is so insane, there is really nothing quite like it. It is a fantastical expression of art and narrative boundary pushing.   

Elle Fanning stars, in a career boosting and defining role, as Jesse. She is the new young beauty to leave her small town in Georgia behind and head to Los Angeles in pursuit of her dreams to reach stardom. At 16, her charisma and “it factor” puts her on a sky rocket projection in Tinseltown. What awaits her are the salivating models, makeup artists, agents, and photographers, sharpening their utensils to devour her whole. She is without a family, finding only a glimpse of friendship in a 20-something amateur photographer named Dean (Karl Glusman). Meanwhile, she lives in a seedy motel, run by a vile predator of an owner (played by a wild Keanu Reeves). Her path accelerates to a devilish deal with a fire red haired modeling agent (Christina Hendricks), where her transition from meek, innocent country girl, transforms to the vain. This is a world where everyone tells Jesse, “there's something special about you”, which only leads to a dark, consuming, and out of control lifestyle.

The Neon Demon is an erotic horror film, with Refn commenting on the competitive natures of women, which drives them to extreme measures to achieve beautiful perfection. The screenplay from Refn, Mary Laws, and Polly Stenham is a cerebral experience, which challenges you to interpret and find meaning in every frame. Visually it is stunning to look at. Shot magnificently by Natasha Braier, with set pieces that dive into dreamlike locations, inspired from David Lynch's Mullholand Drive and Wild at Heart. Jesse dips her toes into the industry waters, where the mysterious photographer known just as- Jack (Desmond Harrington) puts her in a compromising position. Is this modeling? Is this art? It is here where she connects with makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone) who introduces her to fellow models Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee). They judge with their jealous eyes and cut deep with razor sharp comments. They are modern day vampires, calling their plastic surgeons on a first name basis, seeking the fountain of youth, and circling Jesse like a pack of wolves around fresh meat.

In one of the more memorable sequences, The Neon Demon pauses in time for a catwalk runway show, paired with the atmospheric electric-techno score by Cliff Martinez. With a mixture of bright green and red strobe lights, it is a moment of passage, where Jesse transitions from a realm of timid girl, to a soulless believer of her hyped, blinding beauty. As she becomes more confident, Dean is pushed to the side and the obsession from Ruby develops sexually as the other models competitive appetite becomes insatiable. These women will go to insane lengths, in a deliberate Nicolas Winding Refn way, to capture exactly what Jesse has.

The Neon Demon will disturb and even had me feeling that Refn was pushing the envelope too far at times (This is not for kids or even teenagers). Yet, it closes with a third act that is bloody, soaked in dark humor, and so wild, that I looked upon it with disbelief for the courage Refn has. And that is just the kind of thing I want out of my movies and directors. It is certainly another memorable film, that will divide audience opinions, spark conversations long after the film ends, and a performance from Elle Fanning worthy of taking notice. If The Neon Demon does anything right, it allows us to look at our dark sides and experience a movie you will never forget.

3 ½ Stars

Written by: Leo Brady