The Neon Demon: Film Review
Cast: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Keanu Reeves, Bella Heathcote
Director: Nicholas Winding Refn
Simultaneously surreal and vapid, Nicholas Winding Refn's visual powerhouse The Neon Demon is a translucent dream of a film that's centred around a tale as old as time.
More a visual experience than a narrative triumph, Nicholas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon will engage some and infuriate others, but proves once again this cinema's enfant terrible knows exactly how to pull people's strings and visually present a film.
Following 16 year old naïf Jesse (a waif-like and impressive Elle Fanning) who heads to LA on the dream of becoming a model, the story is a familiar retread of the old innocent going down into the woods, where the Big Bad wolves of the modelling industry live.
Orphaned and with only a portfolio of questionable quality to her name, she finds her "deer in the headlights" look is fresh and engaging within an industry that (in this case) literally chews up and spits out talent. Finding a friend in Jena Malone's make-up artist Ruby, who practises her art on the dead as well as the living, Jesse's circled by a pack of predators, both in the form of a sleazy motel owner (played with terrifying duplicity by Keanu Reeves) and a couple of models (Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee ) who are wary that Jesse may usurp them.
But as Jesse's seduced by the world she wants to enter and her power grows with her hold on those around her thanks to her innocence, the wolves are circling...
Too weak to be a scathing satire on the fashion industry (the viewpoints espoused in wooden dialogue and bon mots are hardly new or fresh), The Neon Demon's trance-like hold comes from its visual trappings. Swathes of blues and reds swamp the screen as a sensory synthesiser score blasts from within; the allegory is all too obvious but the execution of it is seductively sublime, once you succumb to its rhythms (which may prove too hollow and grating for some).
As hallucinatory elements take hold, and the music video aesthetics fall by the wayside, a final act horror tale comes to the fore and some darker elements rise to the top. But there are moments that are telegraphed throughout by the somewhat underwritten peripherary of characters; each exchange between the models is soaked with double meaning (One asks if the other is "food or sex") as the cynicism of scatty and catty dialogue is despatched.
Both Fanning and Malone impress; the former in her gradual growing and ultimate journey as she morphs from innocent to power; and the latter for a performance that pushes all the buttons it should as it provocatively goes to where it's always been heading.
It may be that Refn fetishizes the models, the actresses and their ultimate transposition to the screen but ultimately The Neon Demon is a visual triumph; an intense blast of provocateur cinema that won't be for all, and is certainly not flawless as it borders on stultifying tedium at times; it's electric in other parts and, thanks to some incredible visuals, best experienced on the big screen.