The Neon Demon is a beautiful looking, psychological horror film from the warped mind of director Nicolas Winding Refn – and is some of his best work to date.
Jessie (Elle Fanning), a young and innocent aspiring model moves to LA to make it in the fashion industry, where she encounters the harsh brutalities that come with it, both figuratively and literally.
It’s not the most original of plots for Refn’s first foray into horror, but add his signature style to the mix and it’s a unique viewing experience overall. The director has a rare ability to take an average story and turn it into a very personal arthouse piece of cinema, one that often divides audiences. He relies mostly on audio-visual elements to drive the story of the film, of which he is a master of. Though as often is the case, the story and characters suffer for it.
In this instance, the characters are a bit weak in the sense that the film doesn’t delve too deep into their backgrounds, but does just enough to give us a glimpse of their personalities on the surface. Elle Fanning is great as the doe-eyed, small-town beauty and Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee are both on point in their roles as Gigi and Sarah respectively – two ruthless, established models trying to survive in an industry that chews up and spits out its stars without mercy. Jena Malone plays Ruby, the makeup artist/friend to Jessie and is great in her role, coming off as the most-grounded character, but one that may or may not be hiding something.
It makes you wonder whether the characters were purposefully made all surface and no substance, considering the film is based in the fashion industry where it’s usually only what’s on the surface that counts. It doesn’t just only relate to the characters though, as the whole film is essentially about what you see in front of you. Visually, the film is gorgeous and by far the best looking Refn film to date. The use of colours, framing and sound of every scene compliment each other perfectly, with almost every shot providing an image you could potentially hang up on a wall. When keeping that in mind, it doesn’t sound fair to call the characters weak any more, as looking at the film as a whole, it all makes sense.
One can not talk about a Refn film without mentioning the score. Cliff Martinez returns to provide the score for this film after previously providing his talents to score the director’s other films Drive and Only God Forgives. The creepy electro music fits the style of the film perfectly, building the tension where necessary and adding a further sense of terror to the imagery.
The Neon Demon might not be Refn’s best work (Drive is hard to beat), however it’s right up there as his most enjoyable. From the opening title, the audience is drawn in on what feels like a hypnotic journey into the seedy side of the LA fashion scene. The whole film feels like a two hour photoshoot for Vogue, but is not without some tongue-in-cheek humour and of course, the signature brutality and obscenities of a Refn film are ever-present.
The Neon Demon won’t appeal to a lot of people, which is fine. One of the best attributes of the director is that he’s yet to ‘sell-out’ to Hollywood. Fans of his should love it. Horror fans should love it. Anyone with an open mind looking for a bit of an experience will love it. It’s a film that warrants multiple viewings, which could, and should probably be the only measure of success a film and its director needs.
The second film by Refn to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival that received booing and jeering after the press showing.