Review - 'The Neon Demon'
Nicolas Winding Refn is a polarizing director, let's just get that out of the way. That said, what can't be denied is that this man knows how to make visually stunning movies, and his latest, The Neon Demon, is no exception. In addition to being beautiful to look at, The Neon Demon also makes an interesting commentary on the fashion industry that is, at times, gleefully over-the-top.
The Neon Demon follows Jesse, an underage girl that arrives in Los Angeles with the hope of achieving her dream of becoming a model. Jesse has a meteoric rise to fame which creates enemies that are willing to do anything to bring her down.
Refn's latest is another example of style over substance. That's not to say that the film lacks substance, it has some, it's just that this film would rather tell its story through its soundtrack and bold visuals than by other means. Through the course of the film I found that this makes perfect sense for a narrative that's trying to make a statement on the fashion industry, which is typically known for presenting things that look beautiful and enviable on the outside, but are cold and seemingly dead on the inside. The film walks that fine line where at times, even if it's the director's intent, it feels cold and lifeless like its models, yet at other times it feels vibrant and alive. I found this struggle to by very symbolic of Jesse's struggles throughout the film and which added a fascinating layer to the proceedings.
The performances here are good for the most part, and while you might find the dialogue cliche at times, I have a feeling that it was the filmmaker's intent to be very on-the-nose with every aspect of the film. Elle Fanning is the main standout, and though I didn't completely buy her very abrupt transition into a self-absorbed model, she really sells her character well and conveys a lot through expressions alone. Jena Malone is also great, as usual, especially towards the latter half of the film where she really takes her character in some unexpected directions. All of the other cast members turn in good performances, save for maybe Keanu Reeves, who isn't bad, he just looks like too much of a nice guy to be playing the scumbag he plays here.
The main selling point of the film is the seamless marriage of consistent and effective symbolic story-telling with striking visuals and an appropriately cold synth-heavy score by Cliff Martinez. The Neon Demon is drenched in neon-lasers and glitter. The heavy use of blues, reds and pinks create an entirely unique-looking film that is absolutely gorgeous to look at.
Despite being inherently beautiful, The Neon Demon also has an ugly side that is not for the faint of heart. The whole third act of this film is absolutely demented. If you have a weak stomach, you're going to want to close your eyes for at least 10-15 minutes of the final act. For one, there's a scene of necrophilia, which I had to turn my head away from. Then, I was treated to a surprisingly literal display of how models cannibalize off of one another's success in the fashion industry to get ahead. I'll let you use your imagination.
Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon is a film that is definitely not for everyone, but for those that like dark, surreal experiences that dabble heavily in style and symbolism, it'll be just what you're looking for.