Nicolas Winding Refn is the great polariser. His work has always been met with controversy and split opinions (except Drive. I think we can all admit that Drive is legitimately one of the best movies of all time. Ok? Ok.) Anyway, Refn’s work has pushed the boundaries of cinema. Like David Lynch of Takashi Miike, he doesn’t just tease with the boundaries, he kicks them far past “good taste” and into the murky waters of toe-curling horror. Between Bronson and Only God Forgives, Refn has tackled the darkest and looks to go further into the terrors of humanity with The Neon Demon.
The premise has been worn well but never as elegantly as this. Jesse is a young girl from a small town, landing on the streets of LA in hopes of becoming a successful model. With her natural beauty, she is quickly sent up ranks of the industry as many fawn over her looks. Three women – two models and a make-up stylist – are soon caught within Jesse’s web and wish to ensnare her for themselves.
The Neon Demon is an experience that begs for your pound of flesh and then some. Set against the backdrop of the opulent hues and aching skyline of LA, Refn has developed a horrid fairytale for the beautiful age. Three witches set upon a young virtuous girl and spice her with wanting and hellish powers, looking to twist her naivety into their own darker cause. Soon they will reap upon the young girls being, consuming her blood, body, and beauty to satisfy their whims and desires.
Refn doesn’t gift the audience as he leads you down the beaten path, this time scattered with sleazy motels and glimmering runways. His imagery and command of a scene skim a shallow edge of pretention, utilising the beauty and talent of his actresses as though we, the audience, were another beast raring to consume them. In his use of the titular colour and the delectable Elle Fanning, he allows a brutally enchanting story to come through. Beauty sordidly fuses with the grim and the concoction flickers on the screen with a sense of allurement and longing that can only beat within you in lust, drive, passion, and, yes, bewilderment.
Those who may have had doubts on Elle Fanning’s talent (myself included) can only bite their tongues fiercely down. With the director not keen to populate his films with that much dialogue (the exception being Bronson), Fanning has to convey equal amounts of innocence and drive within her character in near and nervous silence. She displays a vicious princess at the heart of becoming and her transformation into, presumably, the titular creature is an accomplished, invigorating, and pounding sequence where Jesse faces who she is and who she is twisting into. The role is that of a more stoic and unruly debutante as Natalie Portman’s Black Swan role once was. Fanning is graceful and deadly, honing in the struggle between nice and ambitious well enough for the audience to be warmed and warned by her character.
The witches three that lure Fanning’s Jesse into the pulsating underbelly of modelling are tackled defiantly by Jenna Malone, Bella Heathcote, and Abbey Lee. The trio of defined actresses play characters each usurped by Jesse’s entrance into their world and as jealousy broils inside of them, they each play a unique role that turns the plot into a damned and murderous one.
As smoke glides across mirrors, as does The Neon Demon puff with a vapid and unforgiving nature. At times, the enlarged egos and extremities in front of you coerce titters of either discomfort or disbelief, and whether or not Refn had intended this to be the case is left to interpret. The feature is definitely not Refn’s most accessible (though definitely his least original narrative) but that is part of the enjoyment. With an utterly masterful score by Cliff Martinez, another triumph by the composer, the feast beckons you to dive further into the meat of the story and the palpable tendons and grizzle will linger long upon your taste. Digest it, savour it, and become it, The Neon Demon beckons steely stomachs and hungry eyes for what is easily the most complex, unusual, yet completely phenomenal film of the year.
THE NEON DEMON IS OUT ON DVD & BLU-RAY NOW!