Movie Review | The Neon Demon
Movie Summary: When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has. (IMDb)
First up, an admission that I hadn’t seen any of Nicolas Winding Refn’s films before this one, and that is actually still the case at the time of writing. In fact, I had no real intention of seeing The Neon Demon either until I saw the 18-rated trailer for it in front of The Nice Guys.
The look of the film and the music in the trailer (which is a track from the film) is what drew me in and got me interested in seeing it – who knew marketing could work so well? It helps that the film really does look and sound as good as the trailers made out, with some great acting to match.
Considering a large amount of the running time is spend at night or in dark locations, it’s amazing just how gorgeous this film looks. Lighting is used to add mood and even occasionally to add character in a very impressive sequence early on, although maybe this shouldn’t be so unexpected considering the title.
The girls are made to look amazing as well, no matter how they’re dressed or made up. I’m really, really not one for high fashion and the often bizarre way some models can appear at events in the real world, but it all fits perfectly in the environments of the film.
There can also be a discussion about the male gaze here, with the gorgeous girls and how they appear seeming almost indulgent on Refn’s part at times, so it’s quite funny that the most ‘male gazey’ scene in the film – two nude women very much enjoying sharing a shower with each other – is actually the viewpoint of yet another female character.
Then again, that sequence isn’t quite as sexy as it sounds, for reasons that will become very apparent by that point of the film. This is because The Neon Demon isn’t quite the film it appears to be, which is wholly appropriate for the story and characters, initially leading the audience to believe we’re dealing with metaphor, only to completely discard that and suddenly lurch into horror/thriller territory.
Without wanting to give away too much, there are a lot of subtle references towards Dracula and vampire lore, as well as other supernatural elements that are hinted at, but never outright stated. You can choose to view the film as a non-supernatural story, which entirely works, but there is more than enough subtly woven in and out of the story that you could see The Neon Demon as an update and unique twist on more traditional vampire stories.
Surprising, huh? Like I said, the film still works perfectly fine even if you disregard all hints towards the supernatural, but that doesn’t make how events unfold any less disturbing. There are more than a few scenes that, for me, were definitely disturbing on a primal level and it’s very easy to see why the final scenes caused so much controversy and outrage.
As for the stars of The Neon Demon, Elle Fanning is fantastic as Jesse, carrying the film on very young shoulders and proving that she is going to be a big, big star if this performance is anything to go by. Bella Heathcote and Jena Malone are also excellent in their roles, but the third of their little trio manages to outshine them.
Abbey Lee is phenomenal whenever she is on-screen, with such an expressive face that I imagine she could probably have performed the role without a single line of dialogue if needed. Whether she is being depicted as vulnerable, threatening, sexual, or even inhuman, Lee’s presence demands you pay attention to her and you really will.
One final word for the film’s score, which is just incredible. A highlight is Demon Dance by Julian Winding, which was used in the trailer and in one incredible scene early in the film that takes place in near-total darkness and without a line of dialogue, but is captivating for its duration.
The Neon Demon looks incredible, sounds even better and the performances from everyone involved are all top-notch. I can see why some people will hate this film by the time the credits start to roll, because there are a lot of uncomfortable – if not outright disturbing – scenes, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and can’t wait to see it again.