The Neon Demon is a sumptuous horror-thriller, set in the highly competitive and often vicious world of fashion modeling, where the term "eat their own" takes on a decidedly new meaning. When aspiring model Jesse (Fanning) moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will use any means necessary to get what she has.
In the film, THE NEON DEMON, Jesse, is a 16 year old, aspiring model, who moves from her small town. to the busy city of Los Angeles, after being orphaned. Soon after arriving, and with amateur modeling shots in hand, she signs with talent agent, Roberta Hoffmann, who sees tremendous potential in her. She promises that she will soon be in New York, and says that a renowned Photographer named Jack McArthur has already agreed to test shoot her. Jesse is well on her way, as it doesn't take her long to make waves with both professionals, and her peers. She befriends a makeup artist named Ruby, while ruffling the feathers of both Gigi, and Sarah, who are fellow models, as they are jealous almost immediately. Following a great first shooting for McArthur, Jesse's fashion career continues to rise, as she is soon offered the closing position of a high end fashion show. As people continue to have their eyes on her, it seems as though everyone wants a piece of fashion's new "It" girl. This is even true for the Makeup Artist Ruby. Unfortunately for Jesse, it's when she rejects Ruby's sexual advances, that a brutal, and seemingly premeditated, act of violence occurs, in which those involved, finally get the piece of Jesse that they've always wanted,
First things first. When it comes to Writer/Director, Nicolas Winding Refn, I like his previous efforts in DRIVE, and ONLY GOD FORGIVES. More in particular, I really liked DRIVE, but with that said, I felt that in comparison, both of those films were different in feel. While DRIVE had minimal dialogue, and gritty action, ONLY GOD FORGIVES had even less dialogue, relying mostly on music and visuals, which eventually led to a violent showdown mostly resembling a Kung Fu action flick. While a lot of people quickly dismissed ONLY GOD FORGIVES, personally, I liked it, and felt that the concluding action was worth the wait. Which now brings me to this film, THE NEON DEMON - and I must warn you, that there will be spoilers ahead.
With THE NEON DEMON, Nicolas Winding Refn, once again takes a mostly visual approach, as he here, tells the story of a budding fashion model, who finds herself within a cesspool of jealousy, greed, and yes cannibalism, which exists behind the curtain of the fictitious version of the modeling world. which the film creates. There are a lot of things that could be said about THE NEOM DEMON, but the most simple way to describe the film's message, is that there are those who will stop at nothing to eliminate the competition which stands in the way of one's own success. The end result of the story that is a NEON DEMON, is oddly bizarre, and I must admit, it is slightly interesting. It's just unfortunate that the film became it's most interesting, just as it was set to end. THE NEON DEMON is, no doubt, a beautiful looking film, when talking about it from a visual standpoint. In fact, all of Winding Refn's films have been. But, with THE NEON DEMON, it is a classic case of style over substance. Sure, the visuals are stunning and artistic, and seem to be intended as symbolic. But, when it comes to plot, it is essentially lost within the art. For most of the film, what we get is basically, one artistic montage after the other. The art direction is superb. Unfortunately, it's the direction of the story, where the film fails. This is a film that runs for 1 hour and 57 minutes, yet, it is not until about the 1 hour and 30 minute mark, that we, the viewer come to know what the film is really all about. People have called THE NEON DEMON an "intellectual thriller". yet I don't quite understand how it is actually intellectual. Yes, it has a big reveal that it hides from the audience until the end. I do applaud it for that. Yet, I wouldn't call it smart, as I see the majority of the film as being aimless, and padded out by artistic sequences. The only relatively smart thing about THE NEON DEMON is its final reveal. Unfortunately, by the time that it rolls out, the scenario isn't given enough time to build. Thus making the idea come across humorous and cartoonish, made worse due to the fact that the film takes itself too seriously.
As for the acting in the film, it's good, with the standouts being who the film needs them to be. Elle Fanning is good as the wide-eyed new fashion model whom everyone soon as their eye on - Jesse. Elle does a good job of selling the character. Initially, she is the new girl in town - the "Deer in the headlights", as Ruby calls her. And then later, she's more successful, and confident. Giving some nice support to Jesse, is "Ruby", portrayed by Jena Malone. I like Malone, and feel that she is a great actress, and should be seen more. Here, she is the film's main supporter, and in the end, is very pivotal to the outcome. Also a part of the film's outcome are Bella Heathcote. and Abbey Lee, as the characters, "Gigi", and "Sarah" respectively. These characters are the typical "mean girls", whom are eventually fueled by jealousy and rage, which causes them to soon reveal a much more darker side of themselves, as their places within their careers is threatened. Heathcote and Lee do a nice job of playing up the jealous angle. The film also has more support in the likes of Karl Glusman, as "Dean". the amateur Photographer, who is the film's boyfriend type to Jesse. There is also Christina Hendricks as the talent agent, Roberta Hoffmann, and Desmond Harrington, as the the subsequent Photographer that she sends Jesse to go see, "Jack McArthur". Keanu Reeves is also here, as a character named "Hank", who is the owner and operator of the seedy motel in which Jesse stays. It's obvious that Reeves is just here for his name alone, because the character that he portrays is actually never really important in any sense. The plot does eventually begin something with the character, however it never finishes it, leaving a loose end.
Overall, THE NEON DEMON is a film that offers a lot for the eyes, yet is lacking in plausible story telling. It's an art-heavy, slow burning thriller, with very little thrills about it, until the very last minute. And at that point, the time allowed is just not enough time for things to develop into an enjoyable progression.
6/10 As with all of Nicolas Winding Refn's films, the music featured in THE NEON DEMON is good. There is ambiance, as well as other ominous tones. Not to mention some music tracks as well.
IMPRESSION OF THE FILM
I went into THE NEON DEMON wanting to like it as much as i've enjoyed other things from the Writer/Director. While I did enjoy it's technicality, and overall presentation, as well as its art, the story itself left me disappointed, as it left me thinking: "All of that waiting....for that?" I don't mind a slow burning story, but at least leave the viewer with a worthwhile payoff. This film does not.
Special Features include
- Audio commentary with Writer/Director Nicolas Winding Refn and Elle Fanning.
- Behind the Soundtrack of THE NEON DEMON
- About THE NEON DEMON
This film will be released on Blu-Ray and DVD on September 27, 2016