The Neon Demon Is Not for Everyone, But It Was for Me

26 Jun

The Neon Demon

For anyone familiar with the work of Nicholas Winding Refn, The Neon Demon will certainly fit into his canon.  The film, which tells the story of a sixteen-year-old aspiring model fresh off a bus from the midwest in Los Angeles, is rife with symbolism.  The symbolism involved, however, is not for the faint of heart.  Jesse (Elle Fanning, in an amazing performance) is an orphan staying in a shady motel in Pasadena when she signs with a modeling agency.  As Jesse’s star begins to rise, something changes inside of her, and it begins to show outwardly.

On one of her first shoots, Jesse meets Ruby (Jena Malone), a makeup artist who invites her to a party.  Jesse then meets two of Ruby’s model friends, Sarah (Abbey Lee) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote), who immediately treat Jesse with anger and disdain.  The four women watch a strange performance at the party, which is perhaps simply an excuse for Refn to sync electronic music with flashing camera shots, but I think it held some larger significance.

Neon Demon Curtains

What later unfolds are scenes that are tinged with a strange undertone of humor and horror; the closing scenes are likely what caused audiences to boo the film at Canne.  Despite the controversy linked to this film, Refn is saying something very interesting about beauty and narcissism. Some critics believe that he is both celebrating and condemning beauty at the same time.  If he is, then why isn’t that possible?  Personally, I think such a contradictory message in the film works nicely.

What I found most profound about this film was the lack of restraint shown by every actor, even Keanu Reeves, who gets a chance at playing a creep for possibly the first time in his long career.  I think the film also references the occult more often than viewers may think.  There is one scene in which a mountain lion sneaks into Jesse’s motel room, wreaking havoc, but it was more than just a mountain lion.  The film also makes great use of referencing Elizabeth Bathory…but I do not want to give anything else away.  The Neon Demon will likely be favored by fans of Refn and panned by those unfamiliar with his work. There were moments in this film in which I audibly gasped and said things like “Oh my lord!” and it’s fun when a film in 2016 can still do that to you.

Like a fashion designer in the film says: “beauty is not everything; it’s the only thing,” and the beautiful cinematography and score, as well as the amazing performances, demonstrate this point fully.

Final rating: 7 out of 10, and not for the faint of heart.


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