Jesse (Elle Fanning), a young aspiring model, moves to the big city to find her fame and fortune. There she meets people who are beguiled by her beauty and also those who are jealous.
Elle Fanning, all big doe eyes and alabaster skin, is a perfect fit as the young and innocent model, Jesse. Dressed in light and pastel coloured floaty dresses she stands out against the darkly coloured costumes of those around her. All the sets make it feel like she is trapped and alone and the recurring use of mirrors make her always feel watched. Jesse herself says that she used to imagine the moon was a big eye looking down on her. The Neon Demon explores the notion of being watched and judged, as all the models are scrutinised by each other, with sideways sneering looks, as well as by potential clients. Success and failure both come quickly with a terse word, withered look, or pointed finger. Jesse is a natural, untainted beauty and this opens her up to vicious, jealous attacks as well as admiration and adoration.
The Neon Demon is supposed to be Nicholas Winding Refn’s horror movie. Indeed, he himself says that it is a horror movie for sixteen-year-old girls. Certainly, there are horror elements to it but we don’t think it can ever rightly be called a horror film. It is surprisingly funny throughout, look out for Alessandro Nivola as the arrogant fashion designer who’s enchanted by Jesse and who is hilarious in all of his screen time. The film even takes a turn to B-movie territory towards the end that invites you to laugh at its over the top nature.
Amongst the glorious visuals and wonderful synth soundtrack from frequent collaborator Cliff Martinez, are Refn’s penchant for shock whether it be through violence and sexuality, in this case including a scene of necrophilia. Refn is a director who controls carefully and doesn’t compromise his vision. His characters often take long unnatural pauses between lines, even pausing within them. Refn doesn’t hurry himself, instead letting the camera hold for longer than you would expect. This creates quite a languid pace and over the course of two hours, makes the film feel bloated and dragging, not helped by the fact that it struggles to feel like it’s going anywhere or leading up to anything. You’ll feel like you’ll spend a lot of time just looking at Elle Fanning’s unmoving face.
Refn’s films are always going to be divisive and The Neon Demon isn’t any different. He doesn’t compromise and doesn’t attempt to appeal to the masses, and really, why should he? He is an auteur making what he wants. You may be entranced and pulled in to his stylised worlds or bored and pushed away but at least he will give you something to talk about.
The Neon Demon is wonderful looking, has a great soundtrack and has some interesting ideas floating around but it tries your patience with its sluggish pace and lack of drive.
THE NEON DEMON / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: NICOLAS WINDING REFN / SCREENPLAY: NICOLAS WINDING REFN, MARY LAWS, POLLY STENHAM / STARRING: BELLA HEATHCOTE, ELLE FANNING, KEANU REEVES, CHRISTINA HENDRICKS / RELEASE DATE: JULY 8TH
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10