THE NEON DEMON
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves
Rich in visceral storytelling and biting visual sequences, director Nicolas Winding Refn has built a career out of extreme, but relatable, stories of life, vengeance, and honesty. With his newest outing, The Neon Demon, the director does not fail at offering exactly what's expected. Though structurally it suffers from a prolonged beginning and stunted third act, The Neon Demon is equal parts brooding industry commentary and resounding psychological thriller.
Elle Fanning stars as Jesse, a young, pretty girl from small-town America bent on creating a life of her own in the modeling scene of Los Angeles. Though new to town, Jesse's quick introduction to the underworld glories and pitfalls of an image-focused society propel her into the limelight, quickly transitioning from ingenue to queen. Though she maintains her self-worth and innocence throughout her travails, the jaded personalities of those around her only grow worse and worse.
Built sturdily on Fanning's shoulders, The Neon Demon's most captivating aspect is the fortunate performances by the entire cast. Fanning's Jesse excels on her unknowing wit and spirit of intrigue, whether she's covered in fake blood, gold paint, or neon lights. Jena Malone's Ruby, a makeup artist who takes Jesse under her wing, is at first glance a dedicated confidant, but is, in reality, ruthlessly inept at choosing sides. Bella Heathcote, playing soon-to-be-forgotten Gigi, suffers from the fear of aging out of an industry determined to define youth as the only true source of beauty. Abbey Lee steals each and every scene as the secondhand Sarah, who finally figures out that her success is not at the hand of anyone else. These aren't the only relationships that find their way into Jesse's life, but this trifecta of female wolves is the main course for the film's ultimate demise.
Winding Refn, saddling up as both director and writer, completely relies on his strengths throughout The Neon Demon, supporting visually impeccable scenes with a biting soundtrack and enamored colors. Dependent on a stilted structure, The Neon Demon may not be appreciated by all audiences, but its unnerving ebb and flow fit perfectly into its uneasy story and steady foray into madness. And, with themes that include cannibalism, necrophilia, and more, it's a heavy thriller on top of being an artistic treat.
The cinematography is beautiful, thanks to a clever eye by Natasha Braier, with most scenes enhanced by clever framing and compelling sets. Plus, the idea of the Los Angeles culture pictured in The Neon Demon is vehemently created to illicit the picturesque aspects of industry-crafted beauty plagued by negative industry elites. While the world of modeling may not be quite this dark or demented, it is just as competitive and structured. A sort-of hierarchy in the art world.
The Neon Demon does what many films cannot. It sticks around with you long after the credits roll. You'll be horrified, but vilified, by its thick notions. But, you'll also feel inspired, which serves as the most unnerving aspect of it all. Even in its disgustingness, there's a sense of simple beauty that seems so attainable.
While not as yearning as Winding Refn's Drive, The Neon Demon still successfully realizes itself as a piece of modern cinematic art. Conversations deserve to be had after seeing it, which is something modern cinema seems to lack far too often.
Runtime: 118 minutes