Nestled somewhere between Drive and Only God Forgives, the film is incredibly visual but also compelling, uncomfortable and seriously messed up.
A sixteen year old girl without family or friends pursues a career in modeling. The embodiment of innocence, Jesse lives from a rundown motel, and is instantly pray to the other, older, girls in the industry. But when everyone around her seems to be enraptured somehow, including her future employers, the darkest corners of human nature start to reveal themselves…
Nicolas Winding Refn is on the back foot with the incredibly lacking Only God Forgives in 2013; his intensely visual only film-making and avant-garde editing style is quick to alienate general audiences. But The Neon Demon reigns back some of the director’s over-indulgence by including a coherent plot and recognisable character arcs.
That’s not to say The Neon Demon is as accessible as Drive; there is still a lot of strangeness. A dreamlike, mesmerizing horror that is slowly developing out from what is initially an uncomfortable, stomach-turning thriller. Think Black Swan, but even more surreal.
And I really like Black Swan.
Elle Fanning (Maleficent, Super 8) has quite probably propelled her career with this performance. While Refn’s style is extremely subtle and uses slight performances from his actors, Fanning works perfectly with it; moments that are almost silent yet you see the character change, something in her eyes just clicks.
This film also has perhaps the most un-wooden performance from Keanu Reeves ever seen! He only has a bit part, but he is pulling a effective accent here. The other girls are incredibly creepy, designed and performed from the ground up to be practically inhuman and predatory around the innocent girl who we fear for constantly.
It is a deeply unsettling experience. While it really is a head trip with the visuals, the film does fill itself with archetypes, especially in terms of “the fashion industry corrupts” theme, which might be seen as a negative but honesty the grounding it provides makes it more enthralling. Watching the puzzle pieces fall into place, understanding what is happening in characters’ heads with only the slightest indication and surreal imagery, is very rewarding.
The music is a gorgeous collection of 1970s / 80s synth electronica, which only enhances the dream quality of the film’s crucial scenes and visually it has incredible cinematography and use of colours.
I would dispute that it runs a little too long at 117 minutes. An hour and a half would have been plenty of time with snappier editing.
… It also includes nudity (virtually pornography) suggestion of rape, murder, corruption, sex, violence, gore and necrophilia. That last one does not hold back either… I… am not unseeing that.
So if you are of a sensitive disposition, generally can’t watch films that don’t explain themselves, or don’t like shocking art cinema, you will struggle.
But honestly its extremely different and very challenging, a great use of visual storytelling.
So yeah… I enjoyed it.
Don’t judge me.