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The Neon Demon

The Neon Demon: Disturbing, Beautiful or a Little of Both?

  • Christina HendricksElle Fanning...
  • HorrorThriller
  • Nicolas Winding Refn
reviewed by
Marija Loncarevic
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The Neon Demon: Disturbing, Beautiful or a Little of Both?

Following up on the critically acclaimed Drive and the not-so-well-received Only God Forgives, controversial Danish director, Nicolas Winding Refn, returns to the big screen with another provocative and polarizing piece of work. Though its undertones may be lost on some, The Neon Demon is a beautifully envisioned thriller which uses the pretentiousness of the fashion industry as its backdrop.

The film follows the story of Jesse (Fanning); a teenage girl who moves from Georgia out to Los Angeles in the pursuit of a modelling career. Blessed with a natural beauty that is hard to ignore, Jesse soon makes an impression on modelling agent rep Jan (Hendricks) who believes that Jesse will have no problem making it big in the business. Befriending makeup artist named Ruby (Malone) – who appears to be secretly attracted to the teenager – Jesse is soon introduced to two more experienced models, Sarah (Lee) and Gigi (Heathcote), to help her adjust to the life in the big city.

It doesn’t take long before famed photographers and fashion designers are all wanting to get a piece of Jesse, much to the obvious dislike of both Sarah and Gigi who begin to see the new girl as a threat. Trying her best to keep her head above water, Jesse slowly begins to adapt to her new life and as her stardom begins to rise, it becomes seemingly unclear whether this innocent-looking young girl from Georgia is as naïve as she looks.

Immaculately constructed and polished, Refn is not afraid to let the scenes linger on for what sometimes feels like an eternity, allowing the audience to fully take in the emptiness and the kill-or-be-killed mindset of the industry.

With the help of cinematographer Natasha Brier, Refn showers the picture with beautiful lighting and rich composition that result in one of his most visually stunning pictures to date, combining deliberately positioned angles that are both picturesque and uneasy.

With every angle positioned to tell its own story, the performance from young Elle Fanning – who was only sixteen-years-old during filming – as well as Heathcote and Lee as her modelling peers, are affective, but it’s Keanu Reeves – who plays the creepy motel manager where Jesse stays – who offers the most memorable performance. 

Enriched with a visual seductiveness and told through a string of deliberate symbolisms, The Neon Demon has some shocking scenes and is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But while the film’s aesthetic has its own shock value, it’s what lies beneath that could be perceived as potentially disturbing and at times, seemingly empty of narrative and substance. Or was that the whole point? It’s not always easy to tell.

Like This? Try

Valley of the Dolls (1967), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Only God Forgives (2013)

360 Tip

Carey Mulligan was originally cast in the lead role.

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