Written by J. Weagle
The wicked die young.
There’s no doubt that Nicolas Winding Refn (the mastermind director behind Drive, Only God Forgives) loves the city of Los Angeles. He loves that city almost as much as he loves cinema and his latest film proves to be like pornography for die hard fans of both. Refn has over the past few years single handled become the most fascinating and brilliant director working in or out of the Hollywood system. His films can only be described as pure cinema, blending genres and atmosphere better then just about anyone else working today and thankfully The Neon Demon continues this trend.
It can be tough to categorize The Neon Demon as a horror film but it is an erotic thriller at heart. Like his previous outings it can be hard to place the The Neon Demon in any particular genre. Drive mixed 1980’s action with a Michael Man film, while Only God Forgives continued some of that 80’s motif but blended it with a Lynchian atmosphere and structure.
The Neon Demon follows Jesse (played by the young and beautiful Elle Fanning) an aspiring model who has just moved to Los Angeles in hopes to get her big break. She makes friends with a group of other models who soon become overwhelmed by jealously and obsessed with her beauty so they attempt to drain her youth and use it for themselves to further their own careers.
The major thing The Neon Demon does is assure that Refn is a craftsman behind the camera and it’s as though this is the film he has been building to in his career all along, the culmination of his inspirations. It’s also the first time Refn has decided to shoot digital, opting for the cheaper alternative though without knowing that it would be near impossible to tell. With cinematography that flashes back to some of the great Italian Giallo films of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s from the likes of Argento (Suspira), The Neon Demon is easily one of the most beautifully shot films I’ve ever seen. The way in which Refn shoots LA is like a teenage boy ogling over a supermodel, with an almost fetishistic quality.
The rather large and surprising cast does a great job delivering performances that only add to the dream like atmosphere. Elle Fanning who has had a rather quiet career thus far gives a shining performance and literally steals every scene, and I have no doubt she could easily become the next big thing. Jenna Malone somehow manages to be both devilishly evil and devastatingly tragic at the same time. Even Keanu Reeves does a great job with his small role, playing one of the darkest characters we’ve seen from him. In true Refn style the soundtrack is fantastic, keeping the dark synth wave tones only this time turning it up to eleven.
The Neon Demon is easily Refn’s darkest film to date, dealing with jealously, the loss of innocence, necrophilia and even cannibalism. It is also perhaps his most complicated movie in terms of technical prowess and forcing his cinematic style. As I mentioned before this film truly feels like it is coming from the voice of an auteur and that can be one of the hardest things to accomplish as a director. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more well directed film in any genre using visual metaphoric symbolism to a degree that even David Lynch would be jealous of. People will hate this movie for the way in which it challenges viewers and doesn’t always have answers to the many questions it asks, but like his previous films some will absolutely love it for all the same reasons.