Release Date: May 20th, 2016 (Cannes)
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Written by: Nicolas Winding Refn, Mary Laws, Polly Stenham
Music by: Cliff Martinez
Cast: Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Desmond Harrington, Alessandro Nivola, Charles Baker
Gaumont Film Company, Wild Bunch, Space Rocket Nation, Vendian Entertainment, Bold Films, Amazon Studios, Broad Green Pictures, Scanbox Entertainment, The Jokers, 117 Minutes
The Neon Demon is one of those films where I didn’t know what to think when I got to the end of it. I had to sit back and really process a lot of it.
Initially, I was impressed by it from a visual and technical standpoint but from the narrative side of things, it was hard to emotionally connect with anything in the picture.
I love watching Nicolas Winding Refn’s work because at its very least a Refn film will be a visual masterpiece. He has an eye for creating stunning visuals that stimulate an emotional drive that connects his surreal works with his characters and the audience. But while his surreal visuals get more impressive from film to film, his stories are also becoming surreal to the point that they feel like a dream sequence, as opposed to an actual cohesive story.
The Neon Demon doesn’t go as far off of the rails as his previous movie Only God Forgives. However, I do like the previous film better, overall. Maybe because Only God Forgives was a testosterone festival where The Neon Demon is the flip side of that, a film full of catty women obsessed with physical beauty to the point of committing atrocities.
The subject matter isn’t something that I care that much about. We’ve also seen variations of this story since the beginning of time. Refn still does enough to make this tale original and it crosses over certain lines that I haven’t seen yet but the impact of the actual horror was minimal, as not a single character in this film, except for Karl Glusman’s Dean, is even remotely likable. Then again, he’s an adult trying to hook up with a sixteen year-old.
Elle Fanning’s Jesse is a natural beauty and is initially innocent. However, she quickly becomes a monster, just like the other girls in the film. I can’t feel bad when she faces the wrath of the other women.
Everyone in this picture, except for one person, is so superficial and plastic that it’s like watching a violent and colorful play of animatronic Barbie dolls pretending to be psychotic vampires. And while Jesse is all-natural and the film puts a heavy emphasis on other girls filling themselves with plastic and having surgeries just to compete with her natural beauty, Jesse is probably the most plastic underneath her skin, after her transformation.
Also, I can’t take Elle Fanning seriously as a girl who is supposed to be so beautiful that she is just steamrolling over other top supermodels. Sure, she’s cute and I would say she’s a bridge between the girl next door and a model. I certainly wouldn’t put her anywhere near Abbey Lee or Bella Heathcote’s level of beauty. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.
The acting is pretty solid and despite not buying into the Jesse character, Elle Fanning still did a great job in this picture. Everyone else put in a good performance but Jena Malone, Karl Glusman and Keanu Reeves really shine.
The film’s score by Cliff Martinez is fantastic but he has never disappointed. Having worked with Refn on several films now, his musical style is able to perfectly meld with Refn’s colorful visual surrealism. For those who may only know of Refn’s Drive, you should be well aware of how greatly the music drove the film alongside the cinematography.
The Neon Demon provides some of the most magnificent eye candy to be filmed since the last Refn picture. And while the film is certainly a memorable experience, it just doesn’t resonate like Refn’s Drive, Bronson or Pusher. The story is more fluid and less confusing than Only God Forgives but at least that film had characters one could relate to on some level.
I do like The Neon Demon but I don’t know if I would have the urge to see it again, other than to bask in its remarkable cinematography.