A twisted tale of jealousy in a cutthroat industry.
Now I’ll level with you – I know fuck all about modelling. It’s not an area I’ve ever required any expertise in, or had a major interest in. But one thing I do know about is film; what’s shit, what’s the shit. Nicolas Winding Refn, director of one of my personal favourite movies Drive, is a daring, visual focused filmmaker. His work is always unique, so when I heard about The Neon Demon, which focuses on modelling in L.A, I said “Fuck it, why not?”.
It’s a relatively simple tale, revolving around new-girl-in-town Jesse trying to kickstart her modelling career. Instantly leaping ahead of the the other girls, enemies are made, and Jesse starts to become part of this twisted world. Jesse is played by Elle Fanning, who you may have seen in Maleficent and Super 8. In the film she plays a 16 year old, which makes everything all the more edgy. In real life she’s 18, which still makes this a rather daring role for a young actress. She pulls it off magnificently though, managing to reel you in with a two-faced performance – one being an innocent teen, the other being a cold, dangerous model.
Other cast members bring their A-game also, with the likes of Christina Hendricks as the ball-busting agency recruiter, but most of all Jena Malone. She plays a makeup artist who befriends Jesse, but without ruining anything, she’ll blow you away. One member of the cast that is sadly wasted is Keanu Reeves. He plays Hank, the manager of the cheap motel Jesse stays in. What we see of him is excellent, instantly showing us he’s a horrible, psychotic man. But he’s used sparingly, in a film where his dominating screen-presence could have pushed the film forward.
Now for the direction and cinematography. Bravo – especially to cinematographer Natalie Braier – for The Neon Demon is absolutely stunning. What Refn does is ignore conventions. Instead of cutting away to avoid the risk of the audience getting bored, he lets shots simmer and sink in. Neon lit scenes combined with powerful music are a highlight of The Neon Demon. Refn manages to craft these scenes in such a way that make you feel both uncomfortable and engrossed. One example is a scene where Jesse prepares to walk down the catwalk, a sequence that includes flashing red and blue lights, a neon lit pyramid and total darkness – genius.
Even when we’re outside, the lighting and landscapes are all spot on. One thing that really hurts the film however is it’s screenplay. Whilst long, intense instrumental scenes work in The Neon Demon‘s favour, the dialogue featured in other scenes does not. There’s a lot of chat about beauty and confidence that is often filled with lingering silence.
It’s at this point boredom hits, and you immediately start to dose off. For me personally, I would have liked some more closure in certain areas of the plot. A lot is left to the viewers imagination, which is fine sometimes, but not this time. If Refn took a bit more care into explaining things to us, I would have enjoyed it even more. An important note to take is that this isn’t for everyone. It’s certainly not an easy way to spend two hours, so if you’re not a fan of Refn’s previous work, give this a miss.
To sum it up…
Refn’s latest picture delivers on what you’d expect. It’s visually beautiful, packed full of scenes I will remember for a long time. The film opts for shock value particularly in the tremendous third act, but it’s not enough to save it from its clear flaws. Under-utilising the cast, and boring us with the screenplay are near-critical mistakes. These aside, in a world full of remakes, reboots and sequels, The Neon Demon boldly struts into the unknown.
What do you think? Were you a fan of The Neon Demon? Let me know in the comments, or tweet @film_swot.
Author: Cameron Frew