#REVIEW: “THE NEON DEMON”
Review by Siobhán Rich for Mr. Will Wong
What if we made a Movie where every shot was a piece of art the audience would covet? What if we made a Movie where every other line foreshadowed the bleak truth about to unfold on the screen? What if we made a movie about beautiful people who weren’t self-effacing or awkward but were confident of their place on the beauty food chain? What if we made The Neon Demon?
Nicolas Winding Refn’s (Drive, Only God Forgives) latest Film is a fascinating study of the narcissism, jealousy, and depravity that fuel the shallow industries that make up Los Angeles. Jesse (Elle Fanning) is introduced to the audience as a bloody corpse perched upon a couch as camera clicks sound ominously in the background. After the photoshoot, Jesse begins the process of cleaning the fake blood off her skin as Jena Malone’s Ruby watches through a reflection in the mirror. A quick friendship forms and Jesse accompanies Ruby to a party where they meet with Sarah and Gigi (Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote), interchangeable blonde models who evaluate the fresh meat and quickly dismiss her ability to become competition.
What follows is a twisty dive into the well-lit world of L.A. modeling scene tropes. Including the expected cattle-calls replete with bra and panty wearing models and photoshoots run by creepy casting couch photographers who demand closed sets. And the unexpected rapey motel owner (Keanu Reeves) and necrophilia.
Much like the the modeling industry itself, The Neon Demon is beautiful on the outside and initially shocking but in the end has little more depth than an empty pool. The script by Refn, Mary Laws and Polly Stenham strives to be almost witty in its constant foreshadowing with references to Films like The Shining and lines like “Anything worth having hurts a little.” Thankfully for Refn, the occasionally heavy-handed script is paired with a score by Cliff Martinez that evokes both EDM disco raves and haunting trips into the shadows.
The highlight of the Film is the devolution of Fanning’s character from pastel-wearing, “deer in the headlights” innocent who hesitates to lie about her age, into a jaded high-heeled succubus whose ability to enthrall men makes her an object of lust and loathing. In a final moment of self-awareness, she confronts Ruby with the knowledge that her power was not found on a catwalk but had been recognized within her at a young age, “You know what my mother used to call me? Dangerous.”
After premiering at Cannes earlier this year, The Neon Demon set tongues wagging with critics divided on whether it was a macabre masterpiece or provocative fluff. The truth is perhaps somewhere in the middle landing short of Lynchian genius but far exceeding B-Movie brilliance. Audiences are sure to be drawn in by the A-list cast, but will leave confident they have seen one of the most beautifully-realized Films of the year.
D Films opens THE NEON DEMON on Friday, June 24, 2016.