The Neon Demon, 2016.
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.
Starring Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Jena Malone, Karl Glusman and Desmond Harrington.
A naïve but ambitious young model moves to L.A. and is immediately ‘consumed’ by her jealous rivals who will stop at nothing to break her down.
Nicolas Winding Refn is a filmmaker known for pushing people’s buttons to try and provoke a reaction, and The Neon Demon – the third in the director’s so-called ‘Neon Trilogy’ after Drive and Only God Forgives – is nothing if not provocative, although not necessarily for the reasons that the director may think.
Like Refn’s previous movies the plot is largely irrelevant and the emphasis is on style, created by his constant need for neon pinks, reds and blues filling up the screen backed up by a pumping synth score that evokes the 1980s. The Neon Demon has plenty of this and, if truth be told, it does look fantastic. However, more so with this film than the previous two, that stylistic punch only goes so far because the weak story – or should that be the weak execution of the story? – is so thin and lacking any vitality that the visuals only really serve to make one hell of a screensaver and not much in the way of anything to grasp onto in terms of narrative or characters.
Elle Fanning plays Jesse, a pretty 16-year-old who moves to L.A. to become a model. Of course, she has to lie about her age and say she is 19 and immediately she is snapped up and sent to one of the top industry photographers, a move which incurs the wrath of the other girls on the agency who seem to getting sidelined for the new kid on the block. Naturally, this kind of jealousy is only going to end in bloodshed and, after a slow trawl, the final act of the film shows the lengths that these monsters in make-up will go to in order to take away everything from Jesse that makes her so popular with the industry head honchos.
But by the time the film gets there you may have given up hope if it was a straightforward narrative you were looking for because although the core of the story is quite interesting and rich with subtext, in true NWR style everything that is intriguing is pushed to one side in favour of drenching your senses in sounds, colours and images, stretched out to painfully long and meaningless lengths and yes – it is boring. Hypnotic, nice to look at visually but anybody looking to settle down for nearly two hours of a young woman trying to break into the model industry is going to be sorely disappointed when they are met with what could really be a very long music video. There is blood and a bit of gore towards the end of the film but it is not shocking or uncomfortable, the only deserved reaction being delight that something has actually happened other than people walking around in strobe lights.
More of an observation on the glitzy model lifestyle than a commentary, The Neon Demon will divide audiences as much as anything Nicolas Winding Refn has done and all the while there is a filmmaker out there who takes so much delight in rubbing people up the wrong way through the medium of film then that alone is reason enough for fans of cinema to take an interest in his work, but sometimes being on the receiving end of what the camera shoots isn’t as rewarding or impactful as those behind it think it is and The Neon Demon really is a case of style over substance and nothing more. Nicolas Winding Refn has had his fun now, time for some new tricks.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★