The Neon Demon : A Film Review

The Neon Demon

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn Produced by Lene Børglum Nicolas Winding Refn Screenplay by Mary Laws Nicolas Winding Refn Polly Stenham Story by Nicolas Winding Refn. Cast. Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves.  Music by Cliff Martinez Cinematography Natasha Braier Edited by Matthew Newman. Cert. 18. Duration 1hr 57mins. USA/France/Denmark co-production.

 Horror is not a good fashion look. (The above is!)

The Neon Demon is a 2016 internationally co-produced psychological horror film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, co-written by Mary Laws, Polly Stenham, and Refn.  It follows an aspiring model in Los Angeles whose beauty and youth place her jealous conflict with her co-industry aspirants.  Even the players of the behind the camera roles place her as an enemy.
The pages of fashion magazines need new product displayed on the captivating physical presence of beauty such as the Elle Fannig character here Jesse.  Unencumbered by a lack of self belief or confidence she almost automatically tunes into the model world she has embarked on in the opening 16th year of her life, seeming destined by choice to become a supermodel with whatever besides her looks it takes.  The world of modeling according to Director and Production company lead, Nicolas Winding Refn, who is unsurprisingly on a path of female psyche and force of horror employed in a contemporary world removed from the tame The Devil Wears Prada.  They do a nice very comfortable black slip on shoe so the Devil is a conformist these days.  Bella Heathcote as Gigi and Abbey Lee as Sarah are installed as the pair of horror monster models as jealous as hell of the monochrome photographer, bypassing them and selecting her for special treatment, which results in an audition at a fashion designers misoginist casting.  Ignoring each woman as he looks for the perfection he sees in the post Lolita nymph like Jesse he dismisses all others and a calamity befalls the rejected.


Bella Heathcote

Born troopers 

Sarah and Gigi have a very thin foliage to match their very thin and tall raw beauty.  They are in anyone’s eyes as beautiful and perfect as the magazines and runways ought to need for this cosmetic circus.  Mostly in ill fitting, clothes and absurd facial makeup with for this film an emphasis on bondage, leather costume, they have little to play with and add were possible a sense of character, especially in Bella Heathcotes part as an Australian who is too vunerable to self reflection – and as Fifty Shades Darker is a role soon filled by her it is a touch sardonic whereas Abbey Lee (Kershaw)  flushed with blond looks and sultry stare employed in Mad Max : The Fury, is only able to play with wit alongside her Australian beauty.  Elle Fanning has a difficult role cast firstly as a malleable youth, with looks almost prepubescent and waves of blond curls and feigned awkwardness along with youthful knowing.  Her parents are non-existent, literally, and her only foil is a male pal of the same sort of age but with a driving license, who has the role of feeding her ambition and allaying some insecurities until he becomes himself more knowledgable of the environment of West Hollywood and the Los Angeles culture.  Jesse is at times, usually off call more of a natural teenager and this is I suppose a purposeful contrast used on instruction or shear wise move acting.  It provides her with a scope to train emotions into what sometimes might be called reality until it goes off tangentially on a peculiar ‘video music centered’ dreamscape or sub-textural plot thickening mush. Her own child like good looks are partly convincing as the ‘perfection status’ is cast as beguiling but it is random and over employed.  To such an extent it is not fashion or photography – the core industry necessity – but this directors moving image contest of poetic filmaking which frankly is a bit of a void which a very good professional photographer would have had more ingenuity with. Stand up Australian Danish French English photographers who are true masters of the unusual.

Abbey Lee (Kershaw)

Plot thinning with Music thickening

This film is very poor on narrative and has only the lonely path of rising to a pinnacle in a short time which causes insane jealousy and in some cases derangement which unhinged the horror element.  Fast and slick this construct is flawed in aping as a segmented piece the music instead of story heralding any change of tack.  It follows from the Dorectorsxown previous history with advertising, music video short filled episodic film making.  It consequently has a very good score with initially heavy industrial house leading us in expectation of something special.  It promises through one entry to a party performance piece that falls flat on its own pretentions.  In Holy Motors a video holographic episode is handled with a narrative edge. The music even dies away as a visual companion entering into gothic electronic somber sobriety fairly quickly as we are invited to afford gravitas and complicit narcissism along with the menagerie of the composite fashion industry.  I also thought the facial paintwork and body paint far off the scale of portraiture offered in aperiodof professional photography have a lot have moved on from.

Horror elements

Fifty shades of derangement are appropriated as the roles of male svengalis strive to obtain and some of the women, what they haven’t got.  The looks or beauty of Jesse.  Or try to debase it while controlling the verve or visual ‘narrative’ cloyingly.  The place for blood is in shiny interiors so .. that’s delivered .. the place for glamour is the hilltop Ruby (played by Jena Malone who has a good time and a role to get her teeth into) house sits with pool Chanel decor and decadent and fashion styling out of its skin.  The vistas are beautifully realised as the moon even puts in a peerless appearance.  Hank (Keanu Reeves) is a Motel manager with a caustic streak and an attitude problem as Dean (Karl Glusman) finds as he chaperones Jesse.  The best shot in my estimation is one where Jesse comes onto the ‘boulevard’ outside the motel and meets Dean whose car is parked under the evening Neon of the street doused in colored light.  Not only descriptive of the Los Angeles Micheal Connoly and legions of writers screen and pulp fiction find so borderline and visceral. It could have been over in half an hour.

Conclusion ###3

This is going to press many buttons for the heady cocktail of superficiality it projects. Some like the ridiculous in film and this sharply spectacularly fits the bill. It is showy but not ironic or plaguristic enough to be a fixed animal.  No real head on its story or for that matter any real idea of insightfulness.  Even Jackie Collins came to mind as the sleazy side was as buttoned down thinly coated realism given its LA look.  Very graphic and uncompromising in its unfolding hate conspiracy it has, as mentioned earlier, an episodic feel with the music signaling a change of plot line or new look to impart a direction of travel.  The house music is intensely invigorating and pretty decent as a vehicle but it cannot hide a rather unchallenging film.  The epitome of good taste is bad taste and this descent blurs the boundaries.  Irony is too obvious a move as is vacuous juxtaposition of beauty – an animal in its magnificence does appear! – in all its forms.  Ruby is excellent as are the other females in the cast but the men play it cliched including KR who is more of a cowboy than a Motel manager.  Christine Hendricks has a very short role and ever her deadpan sardonic wide expansive curvy beauty doesn’t get much to be delivered through its briefity. Her looks alone would make celibate priests question their vocations devotions.    Of limited appeal.

John Graham 
6 July 2016

From Friday 15th July to Thursday 28th July 2016 inclusive at Queens Film Theatre BELFAST.


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