Nicolas Winding Refn’s new film The Neon Demon has just had its UK opening night, after the US release back in June. and Slime Hosue TV has got the latest on it!…
In Refn’s film roster we have the likes of: Bronson (2008), Drive (2011) and Only God Forgives (2013). Here he lifts the director’s megaphone up once more, bringing to life his own plot and screenplay, with additions from co-writers, Mary Laws and Polly Stenham. The film has polarised opinion, and reportedly received booing/walkouts and standing ovations in equal measure when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.
The Rolling Stone review from Peter Travers implied the film was uninteresting. While the Empire reviewer Ian Freer describes the film as being ‘both boring and bravura all at once.’ The New York Daily review doubted that Refn even knew he was supposed to be making a horror film. The plot premise is a familiar one. Jesse (Elle Fanning) switches small-town life for the dazzling lights of LA, hoping to find stardom in the glamorous world of fashion. Her fresh-faced innocence and beauty inspires a mix of venomous envy and morbid infatuation from her fellow models Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee), and make-up artist Ruby (Jena Malone,) whose desperate want to consume and possess Jesse get more than out of hand.
Christina Hendricks plays the convincingly cutting modelling scout Roberta Hoffman, Keannu Reaves is the shady motel owner Hank, and Desmond Harrington is Jack, a prurient photographer. From the very first shot I was struck by the film’s aesthetic brilliance, and, with the help of cinematographer Natasha Braier, Refn’s caustic and colourful visual landscape is maintained throughout. In the words of Time reviewer Stephanie Zacharek, ’this is visual hard candy’ – a sentence that neatly describes the film’s chimeric layering of glossy and bubblegum colouring, with grotesque, surreal and bleak currents throughout. The film is filled with scenes of abject violence, and sterile, clinical tension – Refn took to shouting ‘Violence Motherfuckers!’ On set instead of the commonplace ‘Action!’ Arguably, yes this is just an overly stylized flick, with a plot that is somewhat disjointed, and lacks a solid focal point.
Freer gave The Neon Demon 3/5 stars in his review for Empire, saying: ‘Like the world it depicts, it’s a feast for the eyes but little else.’ I don’t think this is a true representation of the film at all, but I do see where Freer is coming from. Yes, the character development is unconventional, or even lacking. But this is a depiction of societies’ most shallow and material individuals; their obsession with skin-deep beauty is an essential part of Refn’s portrayal of cutthroat fashion culture. The discordant and vaguely hollow plot line adds to the overall effect.
It is a dark, vapid portrayal of the soulless, and degrading, world of modelling. A world that is vibrant and beautiful, but devoid of meaning and substance. However to say that The Neon Demon is ‘little else’ than a visual experience is a harsh assessment. There is a distinctive and unusual feminist narrative beneath the shiny, stylized exterior. One that is far darker than the usual ‘the sisterhood should unite in the face of patriarchal control and oppression’ – which is frankly a tired, and idealistic perception of the feminist plight. The Neon Demon is a no-holds-barred expression of the ruthless battle to attain an unrealistic, and impermanent, aesthetic ideal. What might look like pretty girls being bitchy and trying to out-sex one another, disguises a deep-seated, insidious, and dangerous competition to be the prettiest, the sexiest, the best, ‘the thing.’ To place this film within the canon of the genre, it has the apathetic violence, and clinical styling of American Psycho (2000.) With action and dialogue that would suit a depraved and psychotic re-envisioning of Mean Girls (2004.) Refn’s film manipulates the horror genre, but is still undoubtedly a horror film – with scenes of cannibalism and necrophilia how could it not be? The tension is a little here and there in the first half but is on a strong and constant incline in the second. I’d happily give this film top marks for looks (and soundtrack,) alone. But, overall would give The Neon Demon 4/5, only because I would like to see more attention paid to plot, some strings were left untied – more from the creepy photographer Jack could’ve deepened the feminist undercurrent in terms of intimating the battle for the male gaze, and a closer look at the build up of jealousy from Jesse’s rivals Gigi and Sarah would have pumped-up the intrigue.
Words by @lolajosephine