The Neon Demon stars, Elle Fanning (Maleficent, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Jena Malone (Contact, Into the Wild), Karl Glusman (Love), Keanu Reeves (The Matrix, Speed) and is written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Bronson).
17 year old Jesse (Fanning) moves to LA with the dream of becoming a successful model. She dives right into the modelling scene, progresses faster than anyone else but discovers the people around her, don’t appreciate her success.
There are two kinds of people in this world, fans of Nicolas Winding Refn and people who aren’t. I happen to be a huge fan of his work and I thought The Neon Demon was awesome. If you’ve seen his previous films, The Neon Demon isn’t any different from them, so you probably know already, if this film will be for you or not. When Refn started this film with the line “Am I staring” which felt like a huge ‘FU’ to his haters, I had a smile on my face and I knew I was going to enjoy what I was about to see.
Like all of Refn’s films, The Neon Demon tells its story through visuals. There’s not a whole lot of dialogue and the film leaves the audience to decipher what we saw and come up with our own conclusion, instead of everything being spelled out. That’s what I love the most about his films. Every one feels like a puzzle I have to revist over and over again to solve. There are aspects of this film I think I’ve got worked out but others, I have no idea about. I like watching films multiple times and Refn’s more than most, require several viewings to fully appreciate and understand the story. I can completely understand why people find this tedious and annoying but for me it works.
As this film does rely on it’s visuals, they have to be engaging. Well it doesn’t get better than The Neon Demon. This film is beautiful and actually exceeds what we’ve come to expect from Refn’s previous films. His cinematography is always great but in this specific film, he went really stylish. I guess that’s where people fall out with Refn, if you need more substance rather than an overload of style. The Neon Demon grab me immediately with its cinematography and I couldn’t look away the moment it started.
Performance-wise there were two that stood out for me as particularly brilliant. The first being the lead role of Jesse, played by Elle Fanning. I’ve seen Fanning pop up occasionally in a few films but this is the first time I’ve seen her lead and she was spectacular. The character has two sides to her and Fanning killed it with both. She is first very likable but clueless as she explores this new world, then as the character changes, Fanning gets better and better. I loved where this character ends up by the third act and Fanning portrayed that perfectly by the way she moved and the expressions she pulled. This reminded me a lot of Ryan Goslings performance in “Drive”, quiet but powerful.
Jenna Malone plays a makeup artist who befriends Jesse and well… she does some things. I can’t discuss what they are without going into spoilers but Malone went to a strange place in this film that will shock you, even if it’s obviously just there to do that. Along with doing some crazy stuff, Malone does give a really strong performance but unfortunately will probably only be remember for one specific scene.
So the third act of this film is insane. Again I can’t really explain why, without spoiling the entire film but it’s nuts. This was a big turning point for a lot of people and when the film goes certain places, it lost them. I knew something was coming so maybe it soften the blow but when this film does take a turn into insanity, it went from being good to great for me. The film has a tense vibe to it throughout but in the final act it gets scary and for a while starts to play out as a horror film. Thinking back, there were clues and hints towards what would happen and again it’s another reason to go back and watch The Neon Demon more than once.
The finale to this film is awesome but it did cause my main problem. It’s frustrating trying to avoid spoilers but where the story goes, I felt like the other models in the film were underdeveloped and need more time, so that I was truly invested in the ending. Also, they get put in so many crazy outfits and they’re always wearing different makeup, I found it hard to keep track of who was who. The ending doesn’t fall flat because of this but I felt like I wanted to care more than I actually did.
Keanu Reeves makes an appearance and I’m still struggling to understand why. This might go back to what I was saying before about need multiple viewings to completely appreciate everything but right now the Keanu role confused me. He has his final scene, where the characters true colours are revealed and then he disappears. I feel like I’m missing something because I can’t imagine Refn would cast the biggest actor, in a pointless role.
Overall The Neon Demon was a breathtaking new film from Nicolas Winding Refn, that I enjoy thoroughly. It won’t be for everyone but for those of us who like Refn’s films, this one is pretty special. I know I’m going to like this film the more I watch it, as it’s constantly been swirling around my head.
Have you seen The Neon Demon and what did you think about it?