The Neon Demon
The Neon Demon
2016. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Nicolas Winding Refn delivers his strongest film yet. It has the grounded qualities of Drive while also harnessing the supernatural neon frenzy of Only God Forgives and it's this dichotomy that makes The Neon Demon work.
On the surface, the film is gleefully shallow. Models are competing for coveted photo shoots by any means necessary, violating their bodies with alterations in a futile attempt to deny aging. Jesse, played by Elle Fanning, shows up and captures every eye with her natural beauty and this draws the attention of established super models that are fading from the camera, and thus becoming wraiths of the walkway.
As the film delves deeper into the idea of vanity and society's obsession with appearance, Fanning's subtle maliciousness comes to fruition and the viewer realizes that this is not the film they initially imagined. The Neon Demon is a concept, not a person and it possesses everyone in Refn's color drenched Los Angeles.
Refn draws inspiration from Suspiria, Black Swan, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and oddly Blade Runner and it surprises. Natasha Braier's cinematography is jaw dropping while Cliff Martinez's score is astounding. The opening credits sequence was so hypnotizing and a perfect homage to the Giallo that runs throughout this not quite horror tale.
The real standout is Erin Ayanian's makeup. The models are presented as demonic splendors, wanting to chew up their youthful replacements as a matter of fact method of survival in the arena of physical beauty. On the surface the film is showing how the illicit desires of youth are to be feared, but deep down the message (for me) was that the Demon is the idea of imperfection and coveting the success of others.
Abbey Lee (from Mad Max: Fury Road) gives one of the most perfect lip sneers towards the end that it merits a mention, as her final shots in the film are easily one of the film's many strengths. You'll never look at lipstick the same way again.
I struggled with the idea that Jesse might not even be real and that she is more a symbol of the price of glamour. Refn is extending a huge middle finger to the industry and the film's location, in the heart of film is perfect. While some may argue the whole thing is a style over substance experience, I would counter that the superficial part of the tale is what Refn is examining and putting on display. There are so many shots in mirrors you can't but help but think that Refn is aiming his contempt at all of us, and it's amazing to behold.
This film, like all of Refn's work may not be for you, but we need more filmmakers out there taking chances and trying different and unique approaches to material. I was worried that Refn may have bought his own press, but this film cemented for me that he has not only denied his hype but is actively trying to subvert it and take audiences to places they've never gone before.
Let me be one of many to say: Thank you.