When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.
‘The Neon Demon’ is another divisive film from Nicolas Winding Refn, and whilst I fell into the positive camp for his last film, ‘Only God Forgives’, I couldn’t take to ‘The Neon Demon’. The film takes place in a neon soaked LA amidst the harsh environment of the fashion world, and we follow young wannabe model Jesse (Elle Fanning) as she tries to find her feet and make her mark. Winding Refn creates a superficial environment and we rarely leave the bubble of the fashion world, as the camera follows Jesse to auditions, fashion shows and darkened parties and bars populated with the same women she is competing with for attention. From the outset it doesn’t appear that Jesse has the mentality for this world, but with success breeds confidence and it’s not long before she’s inspiring envy in her counterparts.
Style over substance is a criticism often levelled at Winding Refn’s work and it’s hard to find fault with that critique when it comes to ‘The Neon Demon’. The plot is underdeveloped and the characters are thinly written, with only Jesse getting any form of attention, albeit this still feels like it’s purely on the surface level. Elle Fanning is magnetic and she holds your attention both as the vulnerable teenager thrown into a foreign environment and as the confident siren when the make up and the cameras are on her, but little makes sense around her. The film is undoubtedly beautifully shot and each scene is fraught with danger, but the craft that’s gone into the camerawork and the design is lacking in a script that never really draws its ideas together successfully.
Despite the leisurely pace and stretches with little happening, there is always something interesting happening on screen and Cliff Martinez’s pounding score compliments the action on screen effectively. Winding Refn is clearly influenced by the work of the likes of David Lynch, but unlike Lynch he struggles to blend the surreal with the real and he has no filter, with ‘The Neon Demon’ resorting too quickly to violence for effect before a completely ridiculous and over the top conclusion. The film has a scattering of good ideas and some great scenes, but ultimately ‘The Neon Demon’ is as empty and vacuous as the fashion world it attempts to satirise.
Directed By: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Bella Heathcote, Jena Malone, Abbey Lee, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Desmond Harrington, Alessandro Nivola, Charles Baker and Jamie Clayton