By Adam Ray Palmer
Today’s review is the latest offering from Danish director/writer Nicolas Winding Refn whose last shot-calling was for 2013’s Only God Forgives with Ryan Gosling.
This time around, Refn is taking on the fashion industry with head-strong women at the core. The delightful and youthful Elle Fanning is on hand to play Jesse, the central protagonist.
I caught this film at the Phoenix Cinema last week which strengthens my article on the importance of independent cinemas… without Phoenix; I would have missed this compelling thriller…
The Neon Demon centres on aspiring model Jesse (Elle Fanning) who moves to a ridiculously clean Los Angeles, where her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.
Jesse, a 16-year-old model is told “I would never call you fat. Others might, but I never would,” by untrustworthy agent Christina Hendricks. From this moment on in the opening scenes, Jesse encounters naked jealousy at every turn. All the older girls (well, 20 years old and above) fantasise about consuming her, or maybe even more.
We first see Jesse draped over a sofa covered in blood for a horror shoot, which is pretty normal in the fashion world right? You could say this is an odd start to a film but this is mild for what follows. After all, isn’t necrophiliac lesbian orgies or the regurgitation of eyeballs and stabbing yourself going the extra mile in the disturbing department? However, do let these sequences overshadow what a good film The Neon Demon is. For all the disorder that occurs, this is a curiously quiet film. The camera is ever so poignant and still like a fashion shoot – a technique that I imagine Refn aimed for.
There’s a lot of inspirational input from Croneberg and Lynch with TND with the characters being the focal point. The characters are looking and being looked at with plenty of style and tension. The film explores the nature of beauty whilst also being beautifully made. It’s a great feat for Nicolas. To be fair, Refn’s films are nearly almost shot dazzlingly with his cinematography in his films being second to none. He delivers on his silent scenes with effortless charm but then turns the movie on its head with sporadic moments of repulsive sequences of shock. With an electronic score by Cliff Martinez in tow, Refn usual crew get the best out of each other as the images seem to glide on screen tirelessly.
A lot of praise should be given to the two leads as well. Fanning and Jenna Malone are top drawer in the polarising roles. Fanning is this delicate and innocent beauty with Malone playing a manipulative and dark character that lures Jesse in. Personally, I was blown away by Fanning’s performance as young Jesse. She seemed to get the character description nailed on. In addition, her character progression is fascinating to follow. By the end of the film, her personality is barely recognisable.
The Neon Demon has been harshly criticised by some, especially being booed at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s an intelligent look at the fashion industry with a true Refn spin on things. Taking the grotesque scenes to one side, there’s some kind of beauty with this film that stays with you. The vibrant colours and the smooth finishing editing really lift the picture. It’s been the best part of a week since the screening and I am still thinking of about it. Fair play Nicolas. Fair play.
Cineroom’s Rating: 3.5 Stars
The Neon Demon screened at the Phoenix Cinema last week after premiering at the Cannes Film Festival – certificate 18