You know you’re watching a Nicolas Wending Refn when there’s a lot of pretentious metaphors that are both obvious and heavy handed. You know you’re watching a Nicolas Wending Refn movie when it’s beautiful and loaded with surreal imagery. You know you’re watching a Nicolas Wending Refn movie when it’s so screwed up and polarizing, you feel bad for loving it.”The Neon Demon” is all of the above!
Elle Fanning stars as Jesse, an underage model who befriends makeup artist Ruby (a terrifying Jena Malone) and enters the modeling scene. She quickly befriends Ruby and two other models Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee) and also rises to the top of the fashion world. But at what cost?
“The Neon Demon” is part social commentary, part neo-noir, and part horror film (particularly psychological and body. While it’s overly fetishist, I walked out overwhelmingly intrigued by this psychotically entertaining movie. It’s arthouse meets grindhouse (like all of Refn’s movies) and it works.
Fanning’s Jesse begins as the innocent young girl we see in several horror movies who discovers something evil. However, she doesn’t panic when exposed to terror and disturbing situations. She rather endorses it, biting the hand that feeds her. That’s more powerful than the formulaic horror movie.
Fanning delivers a mesmerizing performance as Jesse, and each line and stare is delivered brilliantly. Malone steals the show as Ruby, who acts as Jesse’s friend, then falls in love, and takes creepy stalker to a whole new level.
Speaking of creepy, Keanu Reeves appears as a wonderfully sleazy motel manager and he’s perfect in this role. He either needs to play more creepy characters or be in more Refn movies because he’s great in both.
Cliff Martinez’s music score matched with Refn’s signature neon colors creates fitting 80’s aesthetics, bringing out the model world’s sleaze. It also makes the horrific and disgusting sequences look beautiful (like the “Hannibal” series).
Why did I feel bad for loving this movie? There’s some crazy, disgusting sequences I never want to see again. This involves cannibalism and something kinky with a corpse that made me go, “WTF?” Much like the violence in Refn’s tasteless “Only God Forgives,” these sequences seem like a practice of fetishism. Luckily these are quick sequences and more restrained than “Only God Forgives.”
People are going to hate “The Neon Demon.” I can’t recommend it to anyone who likes movies, but for those who enjoy film analysis, horror films, and gorgeous imagery, this might be up your alley.