Yes, back to films that’s I’m actually looking forward to. After his hits Bronson, Drive and Only God Forgives (the latter one being in my top 5 favourite films), I was thrilled to find out that Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn was bringing out a new film this year. Would it face up to his previous success, or get lost in all the Refn nonsense?
The Neon Demon stars Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee and Keanu Reeves and is directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. The film follows Jesse (Fanning) who heads to L.A. to become a model. The film follows her monumental rise to the top, which is resented by other models she works with.
With a Refn film you know you’re going to get two things, excellent cinematography and a beautiful musical score. The Neon Demon doesn’t disappoint on those two fronts. Cinematographer Natasha Braier captures several outstanding shots, many of which will stay with you long after you finish the film. Her use of neon light creates some brilliant contrasts between light and shadow and is pretty integral to understanding a lot of the visual metaphors that expand the narrative.
The score by frequent Refn collaborator Cliff Martinez is on a par with the rest of his work and helps create this odd sense of beauty and foreboding. Twinned with Braier’s cinematography, it makes just looking and watching The Neon Demon a joy. Sia also makes an appearance on the soundtrack, playing over the end credits of the film. Her song, Waving Goodbye is a good addition to the film and ends it perfectly.
The film, like the rest of Refn’s most recent work is an 18. I don’t want to spoil it here but…stuff happens. Like, really messed up stuff. Bone Tomahawk made me squirm a bit due to the graphic things it was depicting on screen, The Neon Demon had my jaw open during the final act. It’s a film that obviously is going for the shock factor and doesn’t pull any punches. Refn is on record as having a violence fetish and this definitely has his stamp of over-the-top exploitation all over it.
The weirdness is throughout the film, but is most evident in the acting. The acting can feel a bit stilted, but I think that’s what the film is going for. English isn’t Refn’s first language and the majority of the speaking cast are actually models, but the off kilter dialogue and long pauses add this deceptive layer to the story. Everyone has an agenda, everyone has something to hide and something they want and it all spills over during the second half of an orgy of excess and debauchery.
While Elle Fanning might be the head star, the film is stolen by Jena Malone as her friend and make-up stylist Ruby. Her bubbly charm makes her one of the only trustworthy characters in the whole of the story and she commands the screen in two of the most provoking scenes in the entire film. Keanu Reeves does his thing as a seedy motel owner that Jesse stays at and Fanning does well as the innocent schoolgirl with big dreams, but Malone tops them all as the reason to go watch The Neon Demon.
To really enjoy The Neon Demon, you need to just go with it. It’s a film that you have to put a little bit of effort into. Paying attention to certain points and visual cues means you will get a lot more enjoyment out of the end experience. It’s a Sleeping Beauty/Cinderella fairytale wrapped up in the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles with a moral about beauty and fame. Be warned, if you want an enjoyable film, this might not be it. It is though one of the most exhilarating.
Score: 8/10 Easily the best-looking film of the year.