The Neon Demon is the latest film from Nicolas Winding Refn, the director of Drive and Only God Forgives. This latest psychological horror/thriller is set in the LA fashion world as new model Jesse causes a storm. It is hands down one of the weirdest and most intense cinema experiences I’ve had in the last few years.
We follow Elle Fanning’s Jesse as she gets her first modelling work in LA and starts making an instant impact in the industry. She is so young and naturally beautiful that other people within the industry becoming quickly jealous of her. Meanwhile she has such an impact on designers and others that some start to become obsessed with her. And that’s what the Neon Demon is really about, obsession with beauty. There is a quote in the film that “beauty isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”. And that’s the attitude of almost everyone in this film, no one come across as a person that you would want to know. Even the only character who claims to see beyond beauty is called out on this.
And the obsession with beauty applies to the film as well. This is one of the clearest examples that you will see of style over substance in a film. There are so many eye catching sequences with truly stunning visuals. Now the story is clearly going to suffer when such a heavy emphasis is placed on the visuals. And I felt that there were times in the middle where it did begin to drag. This is a story that could probably be fitted into a 45 minute TV episode, however it is extended to nearly 2 hours through Winding Refn’s extended trippy scenes. The final act of the film is just insane and bizarre, with some really gripping sequences, it is absolutely fantastic.
Elle Fanning is absolutely fantastic, and completely bewitching in the main role. She manages to bring the wide eyed timidness early in the film, and then the far more assured aloof attitude as her character grows more confident. Alongside her Jenna Malone as make up artist Ruby manages to steal the show. The rest of the cast is pretty solid as well, with some models, including one who appeared in Mad Max Fury Road. The issue with the characters is much the same as the story though. They’re all pretty one dimensional without any real depth to them.
If I’m honest then The Neon Demon certainly isn’t a film for everyone and it’s really on you personal preference as to whether you think you’d enjoy it. It might prove to be a pretty tough film to love, because it is so focused on visuals and atmosphere over storytelling and character. However if you can embrace it for what it is then you might find the Neon Demon and enthralling and original cinema experience.