When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.
Well, Nicolas Winding Refn has returned, and is up to his old tricks again with The Neon Demon. Now, in the interest of disclosure, I really enjoyed Drive, and Bronson, and thought that Only God For Gives was the epitome of pretentious garbage. Where does The Neon Demon sit then? Well, it’s certainly better than Only God, so that’s definitely a step in the right direction.
There’s absolutely no denying that this is a visually stunning movie. Refn has a real knack for composing beautiful shots, and almost seems to have the eye of an art-photographer, which comes through in all of his work to date. The Neon Demon simply expands on that, and further proves his ability in that area. Of course, credit to his cinematographer, Natasha Braier as well. The two of them have absolutely put together one of the most beautiful films of 2016, visually.
On top of the aesthetic appeal that Demon brings, you also have the incredible soundtrack, composed primarily by Cliff Martinez, who provided the score for both Drive and Only God Forgives, and proves himself one of the best composers working today.
Of course, this being a Winding Refn movie, it manages to eventually dissolve into an exercise in style over substance. It’s not that he is a bad director, or his actors are poor, there is just this air about his movies that he can’t seem to get away from. It almost feels as though all of his movies are begging for you to ask “what it all means”, despite the metaphors and “hidden meanings” usually residing pretty close to the surface.
Not wishing to spoil anything, but the ending of this movie feels like you’ve been grabbed by the shoulders and had all the symbolism screamed into your face. I’m not even suggesting that the movie need be some kind of deep or profound piece of work, I simply take issue with the fact that it seems to believe that it is, when in reality it’s a beautiful but forgettable little horror movie that benefits more from the look and the soundtrack than anything in the story.
The Neon Demon stars Elle Fanning (yes, those Fannings), Jena Malone (Sucker Punch), Bella Heathcote (Dark Shadows), Abbey Lee (Mad Max: Fury Road), all of whom are pretty great in the movie, and play the vicious models in a way that really works for the movie. You also get great appearances from Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), and Keanu Reeves at his most (and somehow least) threatening.
If you’re looking for a brutal and frightening horror movie, you’re not going to find it here. However, if you’re a fan of Refn, and want to see something beautiful and entertaining, you could do a whole lot worse than this. It’s well worth your time, and one of the more unique horror films that I’ve seen this year.
MY RATING: ****