The Neon Demon is the latest film/style project by controversial Nicholas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives). The film is an over-the-top portrayal of models being horrible to each other with extreme gore, edgy synthesizers and an overabundance of neon colour palettes.
Jesse (Elle Fanning) is a pre-pubescent looking troubled teenage girl with ambitions of making it big in the modelling world, so she goes to L.A. to try it out. After making a decent impression on some big names in the industry, Jesse’s career takes off. As you can expect, her success is met with bitchiness of the first degree from a couple of jealous models. And it’s a bit bloody from there on in.
Refn is no stranger to style and cinematography and loves to fill a frame with symbolism and colour – every frame has a story, which reminds me a bit of Kubrick or Lynch. The only problem here is that, like his last film Only God Forgives, there’s a limit to how much style you can have before it becomes ridiculous. At least Lynch and Kubrick tackled some interesting subject matter and dialogue.
Demon starts off by gently bringing us into a world of geometric mise-en-scene and symmetry – a MASSIVE feast for the eyes matched only by the explosive soundtrack by resident Refn composer Cliff Martinez. But after a while, the plot just dies. There’s not enough colour or fashion in the world to cover the fact that absolutely nothing is going on here. After a while the imagery is just too exaggerated and even the soundtrack becomes repetitive and boring; at times it was like someone banging a set of wind chimes every time a character tried to say something profound.
And that’s when the extreme violence kicks in. Refn once said “Art is an act of violence,” which makes a lot of sense after seeing Demon and his previous films. The violence here is confusing and unnecessary. No wonder why people booed the film in Cannes earlier this year. It’s there to shock us and that’s about it.
Elle Fanning does a reasonable job at portraying the vapid Jesse, as do the other support actors. But like the imagery, the dialogue and acting is just so exaggerated at times that it’s painful to witness. Anyway, don’t we know enough about this industry already? Yes, they’re horrible, and yes it’s shocking because they’re also rather pretty. Nothing new going on here.
I really want to like this film. Stylistically it was perfect from the beginning – like Wes Anderson on acid. But like the empty-headed twigs in the film… that’s all there is. Maybe that’s what Refn intended? Anyway, I don’t think many people ate after watching it at the Czech premiere in Kino Svetozor last night. If you’re planning on seeing it, prepare yourself.