Nicolas Winding Refn is a unique director. His films vary pretty drastically in subject matter, and they don’t always resonate with the audience, me included. But they are all pretty fascinating to watch, even if it’s just for the visual style.
Thankfully, Refn’s new film, The Neon Demon, is both visually arresting as well as a compelling story that leads us down a dark – and funny – road. It may be some of the darkest humor I’ve seen on film since Todd Solondz’s Happiness. For me, this is a good thing.
When young aspiring model Jesse, playing by the dreamy Elle Fanning, moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty obsessed women who will do whatever it takes to get what she has.
That’s the tagline for this film. It’s woefully inadequate in its’ description of this film. I suppose, though, in a way, it has to be, because to tell too much here would be the worst of spoilers.
Some people may see this film as pretty pretentious. I had my fears as well, when the title screen came up and at the bottom center of the screen had “NWR” sitting there below the title and you have to decide whether that’s narcissistic as a personality trait, or because The Neon Demon deals with narcissism as a subject matter. The initials made me think of a designer label, which easily fits into the themes of the film.
Much of the way they handle the subject matter of beauty seems unoriginal at first glance, but Refn has a way of presenting things in a surreal and unique way. He laces The Neon Demon with some really dark humor that makes you question why you’re laughing AS you’re laughing. Don’t be mistaken by that feeling of uncertainty; this is a horror film even it doesn’t quite feel like it at first. When you think the film is over, it will remind you that it isn’t finished with you, and that’s when it will become perhaps the most satisfying. At least, that’s how it happened for me.
Elle Fanning is superb as Jesse, the girl who has just arrived in Los Angeles to become a model. For a time, you’ll keep wondering if she is the naive small town girl or if she is far more self-aware. Jena Malone is Ruby, the make up girl that befriends Jesse and she gives a performance that is no less than bold. Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee are two of the model friends of Ruby’s that want the youth and beauty Jesse possesses. Fortunately, they both look like fashion models – Lee is one. Not much of a stretch, but then it’s precisely what was needed and they both nailed it. Frankly, everybody here is great, even an extremely slimy Keanu Reeves as the manager of the shitty motel Jesse is living in. It’s not a big role, but it’s a creepy one.
I really enjoyed The Neon Demon. Though it may not have taught me anything particularly new about the way media or the modeling industry twists and distorts our idea of what beauty should be, it most certainly tells it in a visually appealing way, along with a darkly humorous and horrific story. This is my kind of movie, for sure. I’d say other than being a few minutes longer than needed, it’s another win for Nicolas Winding Refn, and four furry, extra creepy, kittenhands.
~ Neil T Weakley, your average movie-goer, Really glad I got to see this with Elle Fanning and director Nicolas Winding Refn Q and A. This is why I love living in L.A.