The Neon Demon Movie Review
Written by Charlotte Stear
Released by Icon Film Distribution
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Written by Nicolas Winding Refn, Mary Laws and Polly Stenham
2016, 118 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
Released on July 8th, 2016
Elle Fanning as Jesse
Karl Glusman as Dean
Jena Malone as Ruby
Bella Heathcote as Gigi
Abbey Lee as Sarah
Desmond Harrington as Jack
Christina Hendricks as Roberta Hoffmann
Keanu Reeves as Hank
The Neon Demon has had a buzz about it since its premiere at Cannes; it was subjected to jeering and walkouts, and yet it still received glowing reviews. In just a small amount of time, this film has divided audiences, gained notoriety and has had The Daily Mail calling for it to be banned. Considering it isn’t even out in the UK yet, this is all superb work so far by director Nicolas Winding Refn.
The film follows aspiring young model, Jessie (Elle Fanning), who without a family to guide her, finds herself alone in LA trying to make her way with her only asset, her looks. Her beauty and innocence get her noticed by model agencies and in a blink of an eye she is the upcoming It Girl of the model scene. She meets makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone) who guides her in this new world, introducing her to two model friends, Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee). However, after Jessie’s unprecedented success, the girls begin to turn on her and do whatever they can to take everything she has.
It was a surprise to hear Refn’s next project would be a horror movie although his past films have been violent and shocking, the move into this genre was an exciting and bold prospect. The question is, has Refn really made a horror movie? The answer is yes, but on his terms. It’s an arthouse horror movie, a stunning piece of modern, gothic cinema. It’s warped, shocking and beautiful all at once. Visually, Refn has never been better. The cinematography, the costumes, the neon colours and set design excel more than his previous works and it sometimes feels like your eyes can’t possibly take it all in at once. It is reminiscent of Suspiria, with its striking visual style and subtle but powerful performances it takes on this contemporary tale of fame and success.
With Cliff Martinez back on the soundtrack, five minutes in and it’s already the best soundtrack of the year. What is especially effective is the contrast of the heavy bass, which made the walls of the theatre vibrate, to the silence of any scene without music; a restaurant scene with no background noise becomes especially cutthroat, it’s as if every word spoken resounds in the silence it exists in, giving this film full of colour a peculiar emptiness. These juxtapositions can be found throughout the film: light and the dark, good and evil, for something that seems on the face of it quite simple, it’s incredibly layered and a thoughtful film that will probably improve in the hours after you finish watching it.
Story wise it’s vapid and empty, which is just another comment on the characters and the world they live in. Everything is agonisingly drawn out, a lot of nothing much happening, which becomes painstakingly so by the middle, and then everything happens at once exploding in a ridiculous gore fest that makes you question everything you’ve seen. The sparseness of the movie will not appeal to mainstream audiences, but of course, it’s not meant to. It reminds me of when I went to see Drive at the theatre, as soon as the lights came up a gaggle of girls in front (who had most likely come to see a Ryan Gosling action movie) cried out it was the worst film they’d ever seen and wanted their money back. This is a dark, brooding, horror movie that has its tongue firmly in its cheek, but whether that will come across to audiences remains to be seen.
What really brings this vibrant movie to life are the performances. Refn said there was no other option than Elle Fanning as the lead and it’s clear why: her beauty and ability to say a thousand words with just one look and capture our intrigue and we become connected to her innocence. As her character develops you can see her losing her real self to this dark world, and she plays it perfectly. Jena Malone’s supporting role is one of the most puzzling in the movie which she crafts perfectly, and it must be said, she partakes in one of the most disturbing and shocking scenes in a movie I’ve seen for a long time. Quite frankly the girl deserves an Oscar for going through all of that. It was a nice surprise was to see Keanu Reeves show his talents as a truly appalling motel owner and the vulture models played by Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote are heart-stoppingly vile, but try and take your eyes off them, bet you can’t.
This is a warning, this is not a film for everyone but if you’re looking for style and gore, if you want to be repulsed and enraptured, if you’re looking for a movie you will have to sit down and dissect for days after, go watch The Neon Demon. It’s worth a watch just to prove The Daily Mail wrong, surely?