The Neon Demon, 2016.
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.
Starring Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Karl Glusman, Alessandro Nivola, Christina Hendricks, Desmond Harrington and Keanu Reeves.
When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.
Style over substance – the go-to phrase poured over Nicolas Winding Refn’s most recent works as the director showcased his grandiose artistic endeavours while perhaps never giving his written work quite so much love and affection. With The Neon Demon however those fears can be laid to rest, as this is his richest and most compelling work since Bronson. From the mesmerising opening moments, as colours twinkle and cascade across the credits, you are summoned into his new whirlwind of lucid images and blushing textures that hypnotises you and never let’s go, even when Refn cranks up the violence and gore. So transfixed and dazed you will find yourself that despite the unfolding horrors and unsuspecting dangers lurking just around the corner, you simply cannot take your eyes off it. Dangerous? Magnificent more like.
The final part of Refn’s so-called Neon Trilogy, Demon starts as it means to go on: lashings of delicious and piercing illuminations as we move from the opening credits to a fashion shoot, we encounter Jesse (Fanning), sixteen years-old and world weary but thrust almost immediately into the world of high fashion and high tensions amongst her rivals, the previous “fresh meat” including Gigi (Heathcote) and Sarah (Lee). Soon enough, Jesse is the talk of the town and after scoring herself the highest of high-profile opportunities while Gigi and Sarah are cast aside – yesterday’s news in the (literal) cut-throat politics that puppeteer those below it – Jesse’s star ascends rapidly while the others begin to succumb to the devil inside all of us – jealousy – seeking the bring the new kid in town back down to earth with an almighty crash.
There are so many memorable images on show here that they are best seen without any prior notice of the what or why but rest assured that the entire film is a captivating feast for the eyes and ears, every detail and nuance punctured by another masterclass from composer Cliff Martinez, whose score may be his best work yet. It’s a biting satire on the fashion world and the models that surround it, each vying for those few small opportunities that send many into a desperate fight (literally) to be the one that is noticed and given the keys to the kingdom. Refn’s recent obsession with Joel Schumacher’s favourite color palette drenched both Drive and Only God Forgives in a kaleidoscopic wonderland but with Demon the director and his DoP Natasha Braier have outdone themselves: every single pixel looks spectacular, sumptuous and glistening with the bold, eclectic hue that envelopes every moment.
That said as with many of the director’s previous works this one may just be the most divisive thus far: at the screening this intrepid film writer was at, there was a cacophony of reactions to what was unfolding on-screen – gasps, shrieks, laughter (both genuine and nervous), and everything in between and you will need your wits about you throughout this one but while some of the events may seem off-putting at first, he and screenwriters Mary Laws and Polly Stenham brilliantly combines influences of Dario Argento, Mario Bava, even Stanley Kubrick to form a stirring, visceral and frightening tale of obsession, compulsion and power.
Key to its success is the ensemble led by the magnificent Elle Fanning, perfectly cast as the naive and precocious Jesse. Refn had said that Fanning’s casting was integral to making the film work and he was right – as luminous and resplendent as the film that encapsulates her, the young actress is stunning and will be hard pressed to find something as momentous and delicious as this in her future. Able support comes from Jena Malone, superb as make-up artist Gigi , as well as Abby Lee and Bella Heathcote both equally impressive and audacious throughout. And if that wasn’t enough, a seedy, detestable (and very good) Keanu Reeves will tickle the taste buds further.
It’s been a while since this reviewer was so enamored, so utterly and totally enthralled by a film but The Neon Demon is such a glorious, magnificent achievement that it’s hard to find enough adjectives to do the first the justice it deserves. A mesmerising, beguiling, beautiful and hypnotic piece of astounding cinema, one that reaffirms Refn as one of cinemas most beautiful and barmy filmmakers. Astounding.
The Neon Demon is out in UK cinemas on Friday July 8th.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Scott J. Davis is a Senior Staff Writer and Roving Reporter for Flickering Myth – Follow him on Twitter