Nicolas Winding Refn makes something out of nothing with his subversive satire The Neon Demon. Most movies do the same, but Refn’s latest grabs ahold of seemingly vacuous source material and manages to build a world within it where decisions are outrageously vain and scary but oddly comprehensible.
The film’s scenery is ripped straight from the pages of fashion magazines and fragrance advertisements. Refen even bookends the film with his own initials which plays further into the presentation instead of a smug signature. The Neon Demon questions whether this reality is as “picture perfect” as it seems. The audience may already have their own preconceived notions based on how appearance-heavy the industry is, but we’re enticed by the film’s trashier qualities as Refn’s sleight of hand pushes the story gently into a darker, hallucinatory corner; evolving our blasé skepticism into shocking camp and frightful body horror.
The story about desperation and fated stature begins with Jesse (Elle Fanning), a model who recently moves to Los Angeles to pursue her career. She’s shown around by make-up artist Ruby (Jena Malone) and fellow models Sarah and Gigi (Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote). Fanning’s starlet is overshadowed by the disconnected personalities of the other three, but when Jesse starts to advance, the other ladies feel threatened and are exposed to a flawed reality.
The protagonist in The Neon Demon has the option to be interchangeable, although most will root for the exceptional Elle Fanning. The premise is a dependable underdog narrative, but Refn tells the story through fetching jaw-dropping visuals, patient performances that emphasize the gradual change that occurs, and a buzzing score by Cliff Martinez (Drive, Spring Breakers) that adds to the overall pulsating unease.
The Neon Demon is a fever dream that’s familiar enough for open-minded movie goers to follow it down a wicked rabbit hole. It doesn’t escape its mysterious core; it just keeps reeling you in deeper and deeper.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie