The Neon Demon

The Neon Demon

Released June 24th, 2016

“I see twenty or thirty girls come in here every day. From small towns, with big dreams. Some girls crack under the pressure. You… you’re going to be great.” – Roberta Hoffman

Coming off Only God Forgives, Nicolas Winding Refn weaves an indulgence of the fashion industry’s visual excesses in The Neon Demon, while shying away from any expanded thematic exploration of it or its inhabitants. By emphasizing the technical elements, the carnal and seedy nature depicted courtesy of Los Angeles becomes an inherent set backdrop of which the moving pieces never quite stand still long enough to impact the viewer beyond a sheen of intensity or shock value.

The Neon Demon centers around 16 year old Jesse (Elle Fanning), recently arrived in Los Angeles already participating in model shoots with Dean (Karl Glusman). Ruby (Jena Malone),a make-up artist at a local morgue in addition to her fashion make-up work, introduces herself backstage and Jesse soon finds herself spiraling into the fashion world after being signed by Roberta Hoffman (Christina Hendricks). Partially obscured by doe-eyed innocence and a meek, insecure attitude Jesse quickly catches the eyes of every male she comes into contact with from the very seedy, creepy hotel landlord Hank (Keanu Reeves calling to mind his performance in The Gift) to a world renowned photographer named Jack (Dexter’s Desmond Harrington). As Jesse’s meteoric ascension, courtesy of her natural beauty, takes a hold on everybody around her, veteran models Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee) start to realize their own resentment is soon to hit a fever pitch.

Credit to Photographer Gunther Campine

Despite the thin veneer of a plot, being one of the fashion industry will swallow you whole/devour you, the atmosphere depicted is one of vanity and misogyny with the women treated mostly as disposable objectified bodies with limbs and the men showcased as malicious or predatory. Co-Writers Mary Laws and Polly Stenham try to imbue a stronger female coat to the film but the plot often leaves little in the way of consistently effective build up. Dean, the one normal character, is quickly shuttled out of the film when Jenna’s character starts to develop her own ego belying the inexperience and age she possesses. The brief emotionally mutual contact between Abbey and Jesse is quickly rendered asunder by the final act and Gigi largely feels like a stock female fashion model. Catty towards the newcomer but following the lead of Sarah with no real dimension to herself as a person. Jesse and Ruby have the deepest written relationship, used loosely, but that too seems to cave when it becomes time for Refn to shoot the final act of the movie.

Refn helms a very strong group that tries to add dimension to their characters. Jena Malone, as Ruby, particularly stands out balancing a friend next door attitude with one of obsessive physical desire. Other critics have made mention of some of the unfortunate implications in the film and Ruby’s characterization works, within the film’s context, but remains somewhat disappointing to experience all the same. Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee are equally captivating with Abbey Lee in particular standing out as slinky and nearly snakelike in her mannerisms and attitude.

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Comparisons have been made to “The Black Swan,” however, the stylization of the composition (and even some of the elements of the plot) call to mind Dario Argento’s, Suspiria. The film is beautifully shot and Cinematographer Natasha Braier deserves an equal amount of praise. Every single shot is meticulously calculated with simple photo shoots and modeling auditions treated with the precise care and intensity of war scenes out of Saving Private Ryan. The colorization casts a riveting light and the utilization of flash photography reminiscing machine gun bursts is electrifying to experience. The film largely works on a visual and auditory spectrum as Cliff Martinez’s electronic, string and beat based score is hypnotic and quietly molds intensity to scenes that have no reason to be as intense as they are. It will definitely get an Oscar nomination and should be a strong candidate to win. The editing by Matthew Newman can sometimes hold shots for an overly long time (with a few scenes that could have been cut to speed up the pace) but the shots are still so enchanting that it doesn’t take away from the film too much.

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An intense, horror movie in your face third act will test the gag reflexes of many as will the misogynistic elements permeating it but if you are a fan of beautiful cinematography and scoring, The Neon Demon is a must see. The Neon Demon is likely to end up as a cult favorite relying on the technical merits of Nicolas Winding Refn’s direction and Cliff Martinez’s score in addition to entrancing performances from Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, and Abbey Lee.

The Neon Demon, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, stars: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Keanu Reeves, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Christina Hendricks, and Desmond Harrington.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for disturbing violent content, bloody images, graphic nudity, a scene of aberrant sexuality, and language

See The Neon Demon in Theaters Now


Written by David Hunter

David Hunter enjoys writing about wrestling, sports, music, and horror!

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