Film Review: The Neon Demon (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2016) ★★★½

12 comments
(Image source)
Jealously ensures among a group of models when an aspiring 16-year-old, Jesse (Elle Fanning) takes Los Angeles by storm. Caught up in a fame and youth obsessed industry, both her innocence and vitality are devoured by a trio who will stop at nothing to possess her power. 

You only have to take a glance at the trailer to see that this is the work of screenwriter and director, Nicolas Winding Refn. Made famous by the critically acclaimed Drive (2011) and the not-so-well received Only God Forgives (2013), Refn offers up another neon-soaked, cinéma du choc. The film opens to a stunning display of cinematography before introducing us to Jesse, a fake-blood drenched prom-queen, delicately placed on a sofa as she is being photographed for a shoot by her wannabe boyfriend. Despite the makeup, gown and blood, it is clear to us that Jesse is an innocent - soon to be swallowed whole by the cut-throat fashion world. The narrative itself is simple and lost amongst the chaos. The intense cinematography, though commendable and certainly thrilling, can be argued to distract from a basic story and script. Whilst all cast members offer up believable and engaging performances, much like Drive, there is actually little dialogue. Arguably, The Neon Demon is ultimately an art-house piece.

(Image source)
The Neon Demon is Refn's first female centred film and a unique, representation of the fashion industry that had yet to be have been depicted on the Big Screen. There are sequences which bring to mind Black Swan (2011, Darren Aronofsky) but the build-up and finale is far more colourful and unsettling. Having left a small town to move to LA, Jesse is completely alone but finds a friendly face in, Ruby (Jena Malone), a makeup artist and part time mortician. Knowing the dangers of creepy photographers and the toxic industry, Ruby is naturally protective over Jesse but introduces her to other models who, with their dead-eyed glances, try to break Jesse down. Presented almost as robotic, with no apparent personality, Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee) are the unadulterated embodiment of LA culture; plastic surgery, wealth and ever-clinging to youth and fame. 

(Image source)
The predominant theme of The Neon Demon is innocence lost and the exploitation of youth. Using various colour hews, Refn is able to create a mood and characteristic for each side of Jesse throughout her transition. Half way through the film, we see Jesse smile for the first time but it is a smile of conceit and evil having realised that she has bested another girl - a girl who was mean to her. Having discovered her power as a figure to be adored and as a woman, Jesse descends in to a state of ego and destruction. This is symbolised by the red neon triangle sequence which is pivotal to her upheaval. However, despite now showcasing Jesse as an overly sexualised woman, complete with a full face of makeup and sparkling dresses, Refn makes reference to her vulnerability and underlying innocence. In almost every scene, a possible danger is presented; an implication that spectators create themselves through the almighty power of suggestion. 

(Image source)
At the front of our minds is her age and predicament; a 16 year old girl who is forced to lie about her age and has no living family in a new town. As such, Jesse is constantly at risk of assault and being taken advantage of by those around her. This is made all the more dangerous by her growing confidence which, in turn, adds to her naivety and the unearned trust of those she encounters. There are both obvious and subtle references to this throughout including the representation of her seedy motel landlord, Hank (played by Keanu Reeves), who, though his role is brief, represents an ever-present danger. 

(Image source)
What starts as a thriller narrative about the fashion world very quickly presents itself as a horror. Having drifted somewhat through mesmerising scenes and neon lights, this change in tone escalates the narrative from 1 to 100 in a matter of minutes. Many scenes are comparative to that of films such as The Guest (2014, Adam Wingard) and It Follows (2014, David Robert Mitchell) - complete with B-Movie undertones, 80's synthesized sounds, expressionist shadows and neon lit allies. In doing so, the narrative and mise en scene takes a step away from thriller conventions and enters the horror genre with, what can only be described as, the utterly grotesque. With several incredibly graphic and hard to watch scenes, the film is certainly not for the faint-hearted nor can it be unseen/unheard.

(Image source)
In the true style of a Refn film, Neon Demon is as hard-hitting and disturbing as it is stylised. Love or hate Refn is a lover of shocking cinema and as a creative, spectators cannot question his ability to make film-goers feel and provoke response - whether that be fear, rage or disgust - they are all equally as valid. It is an ultra-stylised, narrative which will dazzle as much as it disturbs. All cast members, particularly Fanning, offer up enticing performances although there is little dialogue. Whilst the film is certainly not style over substance, the stunning cinematography does distract from the narrative, though this is not necessarily a bad thing at all. The Neon Demon gets 3.5 out of 5 stars.
___

That's it for another film review, The Neon Demon stars Elle Fanning is in cinemas on July 8th. So what do you think? Were you a fan of Refn's other films, will you be seeing it in cinemas? As always, I love reading your comments so please do leave me lots of lovely ones below. Don't forget to head over to my Facebook page for exclusive photos from the UK premiere on Tuesday. Thanks so much to The PictureHouse Central and the film's PR company for allowing me to attend and see this before release.

Until next time film fans,




SHARE:
Next PostNewer Post Previous PostOlder Post Home

12 comments:

  1. Nicolas Winding is one of the only Director/writers that has polarised me with two back-to-back movies. Drive blew me away, but Only God Forgives was awful. I'm hoping he's found that magic of ultra-stylising a movie without loosing it's substance with this one. Good review!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you'd really like this although to warn you, it's a straight up blend of Drive and Only God Forgives. I think it's actually more disturbing too, maybe it's just me haha I look forward to hearing what you think :)

      Delete
  2. hmmm im not sure this is my kind of movie. Cool thought that you got to experience it before everyone else :D
    Pam xo/ Pam Scalfi♥

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeaah it's definitely not for the faint hearted my dear. Glad to got to see the premiere though and see the stars on stage :) x

      Delete
  3. This sounds amazing, based on your review alone I'm going to go see it! Definitely my kind of movie.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha awesome - I think you'd really like it! It's so messed up though. Like, quite hard to watch in a lot of scenes. Let me know what you think of it :) x

      Delete
  4. Sounds like an intense movie! I'll keep an eye out for it!

    XoXo,

    Tamara - LoveofMode.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha you have no idea how relevant that phrase is to the story haha. Hope you like it :) x

      Delete
  5. Very well-written review, Sophie! I'm intrigued by your description so I'll have to see it. But I'm sure I'll feel a bit squeamish by what you say about 'the utterly grotesque.' I'll have to eventually check out Refn's other films with Mads Mikkelsen (Pusher, Valhalla) and I'll probably rewatch Tom Hardy in Bronson at some point.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Gil, hope you're well :) It's very very dark just to warn you! I think people will either love it or hate it entirely. I think Drive and Bronson are still his best movies tbh - let me know what you think of them :)

      Delete
  6. Hi Sophie,
    Beautifully written article :D
    I am left with a lingering impression that this film is a bit more " style " over substance.
    I loved the soundtrack, visuals , décors etc and
    I think it's the perfect " indie horror " for media studies and literary/ analytical interpretations .
    The " controversial " scene was not really necessary but I guess it helped the director get more media coverage - your thoughts ?
    Is it just me or does it feel " lengthy " and "really slow " at times ?
    My initial impression was " disappointment " but "intrigued", viewed it a second time for analytical purposes and starting to really like it.
    Thanks for your insightful review ,
    Marianne :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw thank you so much - I really appreciate you reading it and leaving a little note :) I totally agree with you. My initial reaction was not a good one but on reflection it definitely grew on me. I still think that there are some scenes which are unnecessary but are so typical of the director. Great to read your opinions on it :)

      Delete

Thank you for your comment. I truly appreciate all of your comments/questions and so I try to respond to all if I can. Remember to pop back to see my reply

PROFESSIONAL BLOGGER TEMPLATES BY pipdig