Cert: 18 Runtime: 117 mins Director: Nicolas Winding Refn Cast: Elle Fanning, Jenna Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Alessandro Nivola, Christina Hendricks and Keanu Reeves
Beauty isn’t everything. It’s the only thing
Nicolas Winding Refn returned to Cannes this year with his latest picture The Neon Demon. Only God Forgives was a major flop for him there! The Neon Demon was a mix bag but it was more accepted. During a trip to France I was fortunate enough to catch a screening since it’s not out in the UK for a few more weeks. So what is The Neon Demon about? Just after her 16th birthday, naive young Jesse (Elle Fanning) arrives in Los Angeles eager to become a catwalk star. She’s quickly signed up by agency boss Jan (Christina Hendricks), who assures her she’s got what it takes to succeed, and gets a room in a run-down motel run by sleazy Hank (Keanu Reeves). But this innocent teen soon finds herself out of her depth among the dead-eyed beauties in a glossy, competitive, cutthroat world fuelled by envy and desire. Even though this is a town that’s renowned for consuming its young, Jesse could never imagine the grisly fate her jealous rivals are planning.
You will have had a mind trip in the weirdest possible directions and a physical reaction with The Neon Demon. It oozes David Lynch to the fifth element! From the beginning to the very end is all about aesthetic and visual beauty, both explicitly and thematically. The latter part might be the less successful element of the film. You get sunk into a world and no matter how dark and messed up it appears to be, I wanted more of it. The canvas that is drawn from The Neon Demon is pure Winding Refn, with so much blue, red with a hint of neon tint. The dialogue is barely given any importance and serves more as a connective tissue throughout the crazy journey we are taken through.To talk about the visuals in this film proves to be very difficult, both because they are so clearly and complexly assembled and thought out, both for their immense beauty and abstraction, there are a number dolly shots scattered around the film that work magnificently, with superb staging and lighting, they were definitely highlights of this visually stimulating movie. Yet, the images of this film are only one part of the many that combine seamlessly in making a piece of art that overcomes its flaws with the sheer value of the overwhelming sensual and moving feelings you get to live.
The score is spot on with the tone of the film and ranges from unsettling and scary atmospheres to full on techno and it all moulds perfectly. The performances are all particular and special in their own way. Elle Fanning goes to places that are uncomfortable and fascinating to see explored. It’s unbelievable how much she has developed as an actress! She has gone from a teenage sweetheart into a dark human being! Jena Malone stole the show for me! She went up and beyond my expectations. I did enjoy Nivola and Reeves roles too, they did provide a witty aspect to the film.
Thematically the film struggles to emerge, there is not a deep emotional connection established, no particular pay off nor a profound or interesting moral, yet the film clearly isn’t as interested in being a traditional, three act story! The Neon Demon does come with very disturbing scenes. But I have seen much far worse in my movie going time. Welcome back Mr. Winding Refn!