Polarizing from the first frame, this is a Nicolas Winding Refn film. Visceral, violent, vicarious, Refn is up to his usual tricks. Though in ‘The Neon Demon’, these impacts are seen as a reflection of the beauty and fear hidden below the surface of the modelling industry. The Neon Demon revolves around 16 year old up and coming model Jesse (Elle Fanning) as she attempts to make a name for herself in Los Angeles, whilst being the envy of all the already established models. While that may sound like any other Hollywood flick, it is far from it. Part horror, part thriller, part music video, this film is definitely more ‘art-house’ than blockbuster.
On the NWR spectrum, this film sits closer to ‘Only God Forgives’ than ‘Drive’. It is not a film for everyone. Some walked out of the screening I was in. Many booed the film at its Cannes premiere. But for those willing to ride the whirlwind, the film can be extremely rewarding. Refn plays with emotion using beautiful colours, frames and locations. The sound is either pumping or whisper quiet, moving effortlessly from a dream like state into a sombre, harsh reality.
Refn always likes to throw a controversial scene or two at his audiences, and this film is no exception. Blood is a central motif, and every character is out for it in some way or another. Elle Fanning is electrifying as always, in fact all the actors impress, including an excellent cameo role by Keanu Reeves.
As someone who enjoys peeling back the top layer to analyse a film, it’s a rare treat to be able to ask the director directly about their intentions. Academy Cinemas managed to line up a live Q&A with the films director Nicolas Winding Refn immediately after the screening I attended. Skyping in onto the cinema screen from somewhere in the middle of Thailand, Mr Refn took time to answer some questions from the audience and justify some of the seriously ‘WTF’ moments the film offered up – informed, rather than unsure, was a great way to leave the cinema – especially with a film like this one.
Don’t take a first date to this film. Keep an open mind. Be prepared for anything. Good luck.
– Ben Chesters