The Neon Demon

03/05/2018 07:22

Film: The Neon Demon

Year: 2016

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Writer: Nicolas Winding Refn, Mary Laws and Polly Stenham

Starring: Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks and Keanu Reeves



This film was one that I got turned on to via horror movie podcasts. It is one that can be polarizing for some. It is an arthouse film that for a good part doesn’t feel like a horror movie. There is an interesting allegory and things to delve into here. I’ve now given it a second viewing as part of the Summer Series for the Podcast Under the Stairs. The synopsis is an aspiring model, Jesse (Elle Fanning), is new to Los Angeles. However, her beauty and youth, which generate intense fascination and jealously within the fashion industry, may prove themselves sinister.

We begin with Jesse having blood on her and she is lying on a couch. It turns out that this is for a photo shoot. The photographer is Dean (Karl Glusman). This is an interesting foreshadowing for what will happen later. When she is done, Jesse goes to wash off the blood. There she meets Ruby (Jena Malone) who is a make-up artist. They talk and Ruby helps her clean up. She then invites her to a party.

There she meets Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee). Both are models and they show a little interest in Jesse. Neither of them has heard of her and she seems shy about the questions they are asking. What I want to point out here is that Gigi is fake. Despite her age, she’s had quite a bit of work done to be beautiful. She also pretends to be Jesse’s friend. Sarah on the other hand is cold and standoffish from the beginning.

From there we meet Roberta Hoffmann (Christina Hendricks). She is interviewing Jesse and decides to sign her to her modeling agency. She does feel that the pictures she used are amateur and she asks her to go see a famous photographer for better ones. During the paperwork phase, we learn that she is underage. Roberta doesn’t ask but tells her she is now 19. We will learn later that she is 16.

Jesse goes to meet Jack (Desmond Harrington). She gets her make-up done by Ruby who is also there. Harrington looks at her and tells everyone to leave; this is going to be a closed set. Ruby wants to stay and we get the idea she doesn’t trust Jack, but she is commanded to leave. Jack has her undress and photographs her.

Afterwards, Jesse goes to leave and Ruby is waiting outside. She tells Jesse not to trust him, but she is glad it went well. We do see that Jesse is somewhat dating Dean. They go out and it is here we learn her age. He takes her home and Jesse asks to see him again. She goes to go into her room and sees something move in the shadows. She then goes down to manager, Hank (Keanu Reeves). He gets his buddy of Mikey (Charles Baker) to come with him. It turns out there is a wildcat in her room, which Hank isn’t happy about.

From here, we see that Jesse is Gigi and Sarah’s worst nightmare. They underestimated her, but as the synopsis states, everyone is entranced with her. The world of modeling is a dangerous one and things get darker as everyone wants a piece of Jesse.

I’ve already said how I’ve gotten turned on to this and that some seem to love it while others are not so much. After seeing it that first time, I can see why. The story isn’t overly complex, but it doesn’t need to be. There are things below the surface. This story boils down to an allegory about how cutthroat and tough the modeling world can be for those starting out. It is interesting that I’ve heard about an interview with the director/co-writer Nicolas Winding Refn. He did come up with he story as well. From what I remember, he says this isn’t what he was going for, but it is hard to not see that when watching the movie.

To delve into this a bit more, some women just have the natural look while some try to manufacture it. This is the case with Gigi. She is getting work done despite her age. Roberto Sarno (Alessandro Nivola) is putting on modeling show and he calls Gigi in a restaurant. I like that her personality is a lot like her look. On the other side, Sarah is calculating. She sees the dangers that Jesse brings. What I also like here is that we don’t know who we can trust. Jessie is also underage and trying to traverse this dangerous world. She is naïve and those around her take advantage. The only one who truly seems to care is Dean.

Before I move away from the story, I think that I need to address the title of the movie. I’ve got a couple of ideas, but I’m not sure if either is right. The first one that came to me is that modeling is the neon demon. There is a lot of bright lights and colors, which I’ll come back to. If you aren’t careful, it will take you over like what happens to Jesse. This is a loss of innocence. The other idea is that Jesse could be the neon demon. She is the newcomer, who is beautiful. When she comes into the room, everyone looks at her. They can’t stop. The other women want this. The last thing to say here, you could be thought to be the next great thing. Some fizzle out and never fully realizes their potential.

Now I should come to the most important aspect of the film which is the cinematography. From the opening shots, I knew this movie was going to be stunning. They use such vivid colors. Every shot could be printed off and hung as a work of art. There’s also a good contrast to make things pop. This movie is an arthouse movie so keep that in mind. There are some surreal things that we see.

Something else that makes this work is the acting. Fanning was amazing. We see a duality to her character with the nativity with being hesitant to do some things, but then you see her letting go at others. I loved how well she played this role and I was blown away. There is a subtle growth from the timid girl in the start until the climax. Malone is interesting because she seems to truly love Jesse. What happens in the climax shocked me in a good way. I forgot so during this second viewing it got me again. Heathcote and Lee were great as well. They are so confident in themselves, until they see Fanning’s true potential. They are shaken when they’re overshadowed by this younger newcomer. It was also good to see cameos by Hendricks, Reeves and Harrington. I’ve seen them all in other things which they are normally good. The rest of the cast as well helped to round this out.

I’ve already touched on the visuals, but the effects of this film are great. The blood in the film looks good. I do believe that the effects used are mostly practical. It does take some time to get to the horror, but when it does it gets creepy. There is a bit of Elizabeth Bathory incorporated here that I liked. Going along with building this atmosphere is the soundtrack. It is amazing to the point where I want to buy this one. It helped enhance the surreal feel of the scenes as well ramp up my anxiety, which I loved.

Now with that said, I would highly recommend seeing this film if you are into arthouse horror. The story isn’t the most complex, but it doesn’t need to be. It is a simple story of an underage girl trying to make it in a cutthroat industry. What happens at the climax though was quite shocking and it’s great. The acting was amazing across the board. The visuals and the score of the film were as well. The effects were also solid. I do think that is runs a bit long. For me, after both viewings it loses steam around the climax. I don’t get bored, but it feels like it loses itself just a bit. Regardless, I know this is polarizing. I personally think it is good, bordering on great and I think it deserves a viewing if what I said ticks boxes for you.


My Rating: 9 out of 10