Wow… Beauty has truly become the beast here in Nicolas Winding Refn’s surreal, nightmarish, neon-soaked horror thrillride The Neon Demon. Refn is someone who, like John Carpenter, creates dark subversive films that rides the fine line of taste and decency, and this has resulted in some big successes (Drive, Bronson, and the Pusher films), as well as some failures (Valhalla Rising and Only God Forgives). But this just demonstrates just how much of an experimental filmmaker he is, creating genre pieces that are ballsy and edgy, and in the case of The Neon Demon, Refn has created a film that must go down in history as one of the most seriously fucked up movies ever made.
However, this film rewards you with one of the most visceral experiences you’ll ever encounter with a film. This is the kind of movie that has you reflecting on the seedy, shady world that’s buried and hidden beneath the shiny and glamorous surface of Hollywood. There’s a lot of iconic imagery and sequences filled with laughter, horror, tragedy, vanity and vile repugnant envy that will stay with you long after the movie has finished. In a highly stylised approach, Refn explores all the very real and highly narcissistic attitudes, as well as the horrible and greedy mentalities that constantly infests every single corner in the very real and sharp world of make believe. This is a world infested with vacuous people who use, abuse and take full advantage of others in order to achieve their own personal gain, no matter how petty or plastic.
Visually, it’s beautifully stunning (plaudits to cinematographer Natasha Braier) with the bold, bright and vibrant colours used intricately well, resulting in the best-looking movie of the year so far. The score by Cliff Martinez is electrifyingly orgasmic, being very techno and electronic, yet hugely complements the film’s warped atmosphere. Also electrifying is the superb performances all round with the mercurial and luminous Elle Fanning being excellent in the central role of Jesse, brilliantly blurring the lines between innocence and terrifying.
Both Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote are dynamic as the attention-seeking duo, Keanu Reeves is brilliantly creepy, and Christina Hendricks is solid in a glorified cameo role. However, the real and raw beating heart of this unnerving film is Jena Malone, who phenomenally explores the darkest truths of humanity as she goes through some daring and disturbing ordeals. As Ruby, Malone brilliantly captures all aspects of loneliness, longing, depravity, anger, desire, confusion, and deep-rooted hurt, making her the real star of the show.
Granted, The Neon Demon won’t work with certain audiences; some will be bored, frustrated or offended by the experience, whilst some would see it as an example of style over substance. The latter is understandable, and like Lars von Trier, Refn is a director that creates excitement or exasperation, especially given the fact he has described himself as a pornographer by fetishizing certain aspects of the film. Nevertheless, this is a bold and riveting experience like no other, filled to the gills with surrealistic, metaphorical imagery, dynamite performances, and like Drive has the true makings of a cult classic.
THE NEON DEMON / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: NICOLAS WINDING REFN / SCREENPLAY: NICOLAS WINDING REFN, MARY LAWS, POLLY STENHAM / STARRING: ELLE FANNING, KARL GLUSMAN, JENA MALONE, BELLA HEATHCOTE / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 31ST