The Neon Demon: That Crazy Nicolas Winding Refn Is At It Again

Written by Matt Taylor

Neon Demon poster

If the purpose of reviewing a film is to help potential viewers decide whether or not they should watch a movie, then writing a review of The Neon Demon is a pointless task. There is a far simpler way to decide whether or not this movie is for you: do you like films that are loud, violent, artsy, over-the-top and lacking subtlety in any way? Whether you answered “yes” or “no” should help you determine whether or not you should buy a ticket. Reading the rest of the review is completely unnecessary.

But, in the interest of keeping my job, I hope you keep reading.

Neon Demon pc 1

Set in the (both literally and figuratively) cutthroat modeling industry, Elle Fanning plays Jesse, who arrives, fresh faced and pure, in Los Angeles hoping to make a name for herself. She quickly finds something of a friend in Ruby (Jena Malone), a makeup artist, and makes some enemies in Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee), young twenty-somethings who are already aging out of their jobs. Everyone in LA seems to have an agenda, however, with many of the men preying on the young women, and many of the women trying to remain relevant – by literally any means necessary.

I suppose one could apply some sort of feminist reading to The Neon Demon, mainly because of the way it occasionally depicts men treating women like objects, which creates an internalized misogyny amongst the models. But, really, these ideas aren’t explored thoroughly, and any true “message” given by director Nicolas Winding Refn seems purely incidental. Instead, this film embraces the term “style over substance” with open arms, creating one of the most beautiful, engrossing films of the year so far. With stunning cinematography, a fantastic score and minimal dialogue, The Neon Demon often feels like a collection of interconnected music videos, strung together by story threads and occasionally punctuated with brutal acts of violence. If that sounds like your idea of a good film, then buy your ticket as soon as possible.

But while The Neon Demon is most definitely a thriller with quite a bit of gore on display, it also proves to be one of the funnier films of the year – if you have a twisted sense of humor, of course. While Elle Fanning’s wide-eyed performance comes off as one-note on occasion, many of her costars seem to be in on the joke and are having a great time. Abbey Lee (of Fury Road fame) is particularly fun, thanks to her deadpan delivery of one-liners and expressionless physical humor. Jena Malone also has a magnetic screen presence, effectively creating a character that both the audience and the main character are drawn in by and suspicious of. There’s also a well-acted cameo by Christina Hendricks, though I certainly wouldn’t have complained about seeing more of her, especially since she clearly seems to understand the tone that Refn was going for.

Despite my love for this film, I wouldn’t necessarily argue against those who walked away with mixed or negative feelings. This is a film that’s bound to polarize, both because of its content (this is a very hard R), and its overall tone. If you’re squeamish, stay home. If you’re not a fan of art house horror or loose narratives, go see something else. Do your research, know what you’re signing up for, and then buy yourself a ticket. Because one thing is for certain: The Neon Demon is a trip.

Overall Rating: 8 out of 10

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