REVIEW: The Neon Demon
Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Keanu Reeves
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Frustrating and exhilarating in equal measure…
Having polarised the masses with Only God Forgives, Nicolas Winding Refn shows no sign of signing up for the mainstream any time soon with The Neon Demon. Ostensibly, this is the tale of a wide-eyed country girl who goes to LA to seek her fortune as a model, with Elle Fanning playing Jesse, the 16-year-old lamb to the city’s slaughter. This is the stuff of cautionary legends found the world over, as the innocence of youth is commodified and brutalised. However, it’s how Refn throws the tale up – sometimes literally – onto the screen that makes the film worthy of pursuit.
Bedaubed in glitter and fake blood, languishing on a sofa, Jesse’s first modelling shoot sets up the aesthetic for the film, with Refn painting his scenes in shades of neon and violence. The only act of moral guidance comes when makeup artist, Ruby (Jena Malone), tries to steer Jesse away from the users and abusers of the fashion world, including Keanu Reeves as a sleazy and sexually violent landlord.
Jesse’s ascension in the modelling world is almost neck-breaking, and whilst her contemporaries wail and gnash their teeth, a meditative calm washes over our protagonist. Does she have full control of her destiny, or does something lurk in the darkness goading her on? The Neon Demon is in some ways a horror film, but what supernatural forces, if any, guide and fuel the actions of those on screen are as covert as a whisper. As in all of his films, Refn has no interest in holding his audience’s hand. And this, coupled with the cold and deliberately stilted performances from his leads, will be off putting, whilst fitting in perfectly with the film’s cool, emotionless world.
Frustrating and exhilarating in equal measure, The Neon Demon’s violence, misogyny and, yes, necrophilia will ensure that it is one of the most talked about films of 2016.