Nowadays, the majority of wide theatrical releases are mainstream films, so, whenever I get a chance to see a more experimental motion picture, I take it! Thus, without further ado, let me tell you about The Neon Demon.
IMDb summary: When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.
- The Neon Demon is sort of a horror film. I, personally, don’t really watch any horror movies. However, this one intrigued me because it wasn’t just a straight up mainstream horror flick with jump scares and ghosts. It had elements of psychological drama and thriller. Moreover, it was created by a very artsy indie director Nicolas Winding Refn. I loved Winding Refn’s Drive and I also kinda enjoyed his other film with Ryan Gosling – Only God Forgives. The Neon Demon also explored the world that I’m interested in – the fashion business. The previous films about fashion that I have seen were all very light – Zoolander 1 and 2, The Devil Wears Prada and Confessions of a Shopaholic. On the contrary, The Neon Demon was unapologetically dark. While overall I enjoyed the movie, I also had some problems with it. Basically, I thought that it was visually rich, but lacked substance and was narratively hollow.
- Visuals: the director Nicolas Winding Refn is know for beautiful visuals, so it is no surprise that The Neon Demon was a stunning film to look at. Half of the praises should go to Natasha Braier, for her amazing cinematography. If you freeze any frame of the film, you would get an amazing photograph. All of the manipulation of lights, colors and geometrical shapes was remarkable. The slow motion and the close-ups really fit with the slow pace of the film as well. The picture has quite a few bloody scenes, especially near the end, so be aware if that bothers you.
- Narrative: the film was written by the director, the screenwriter Mary Laws and the playwright Polly Stenham. I felt that the writing was the weakest part of the film. The main character – the innocent girl from a small town that comes to the city to become a model – was such a cliche. Her transition from innocence to confidence was way too quick as well. All of the faults of the fashion industry were also really predictable. The portrayal of men as sexual predators and the depiction of women as vain and jealous individuals were both stereotypical choices.The film also missed a few plot opportunities. Keanu Reeves’s character appeared in 3 scenes and then disappeared. The over-the-top ending didn’t help the film either.
- A few ideas of the story that I liked were the fact that beauty can make money and that beauty has an expiration date. These concepts weren’t really that original but I appreciated their inclusion and depiction. The movie also had quite a lot of symbolism. For me, some of the symbols worked, some didn’t. The symbol of mirrors was cool, but the scene with the cougar kinda went over my head when I first saw the film. The soundtrack by Cliff Martinez was pretty neat too – I liked the inclusion of Sia’s song Waving Goodbye. In general, the whole film felt very much controlled, maybe even strained and over-constructed. There wasn’t really anything organic or natural about it, but I guess the fashion world is really artificial, so the movie set in that world should give off a feeling of fakeness and manufacture.
- Acting: I enjoyed the majority of the performances. The conversations between the characters seemed a bit awkward at times but I think that they were intentionally awkward – those scenes were uncomfortable to watch and one must never feel comfortable when watching a more experimental film. Speaking of the actors: Elle Fanning (Maleficent, Super 8) was okay as Jesse. I feel that the lack of originality in the writing for the lead character ruined Fanning’s execution a bit. Karl Glusman was good as Dean – the most normal character of the picture. Jena Malone (The Hunger Games and BvS Ultimate Edition) as Ruby was an absolute scene stealer and really went all the way in this role. Her sex-scene was more than disturbing. Bella Heathcote (Dark Shadows, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) as Gigi was good as well, but I though that model Abbey Lee (Mad Max Fury Road) as Sarah kinda stole all her scenes. Keanu Reeves had a few scenes as Hank and I, personally, thought that anybody could have played his part. Lastly, Desmond Harrington as Jack was a believable sort of artsy and kinda shady photgrapher.
In short, The Neon Demon was/is defintely an experimental film. It is not easy to watch and might be considered an unsuccessful experiment by the majority of the mainstream audiences. I did enjoy it but kinda had to make myself sit through it at first. Visually, it is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen, while plot-wise it could have been more refined and more sophisticated. If you want to try any of Winding Refn’s films, I suggest you start with Drive, as it is the most accessible one. Maybe leave The Neon Demon and Only God Forgives for some other time. I also want to check out his Bronson film, as it stars my favorite actor – Tom Hardy.
Trailer: The Neon Demon trailer