The Neon Demon


The Neon Demon Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn starring Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves.

Fabian Brims, Egalitarian Staff Writer

‘The Neon Demon’ is Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest movie. It’s a true NWR film, and that’s good and bad at the same time, but let’s start with the good: Like in his last movies (‘Drive’, ‘Only God Forgives’) the cinematography, the art direction and the soundtrack are amazing.

The colors, the neo-80’s look, the smooth and subtle camera movement paired with Cliff Martinez’ pumping beats are unprecedented in Hollywood right now. Unfortunately, NWR’s dark sides appear as well, like inconsistency in tone, indifference to characters and story and a use of explicit visuals without purpose or relation to the story.

So even though the beginning is promising, in the end you’re just glad the movie is over.

The story takes place in today’s Los Angeles, and it depicts the excessive fashion industry. Jesse (Elle Fanning), a 16-year old runaway kid comes into town and stirs up the entire modeling scene immediately. She meets Ruby (Jena Malone), a mysterious make-up-artist, who helps Jesse to find her way through the fashion jungle and mentors her, but when she gets too successful and also arrogant, their relationship changes drastically.

In other parts we see Keanu Reeves, Karl Glusman and Mad Men’s own Christina Hendricks in a small cameo. An old rule in Hollywood is that models can’t act. So either the actors played so well that they looked like bad actors, or it just didn’t work out. With the exception of Elle Fanning none of the female actors were able to convince me. They looked like robots talking on cue points. The male acting was better, but overall NWR just shows us clichés.

The arrogant and misogynic fashion designer, the jealous super model, the shady motel owner, the good-hearted boyfriend, none of these roles gets depth, a background story or even more than a handful of lines, none of them providing more info than we can get just by watching these people in a first glimpse.

This indifference to the characters would be excusable if the story would make up for that, but unfortunately NWR doesn’t care for that either. There are three people credited for the screenplay (Mary Laws, NWR, and Polly Stenham) and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had never seen each other during that writing process – it’s clearly missing a strong direction.

The first half of the movie, Jesse’s arrival in LA and her rise to stardom, is actually really well done (except for the wooden acting of all these beautiful people) but then all of a sudden the tone of the movie changes, and what was a decent thriller/drama turns into a fever nightmare teen horror.

It looks as if the director never knew what kind of movie he was going to end up with, and many scenes were also improvised, that led to a very incoherent movie, that in the end tries to gain attention by shock value. Plenty of people walked out of the movie at the press screening, the majority during a lesbian necrophilia (!) sex scene. This scene is not only disgusting, but it also doesn’t move the story forward or highlights character development in any way. It’s just a cheap trick to keep up the buzz, and it’s a pity, because this director has so much talent. It sucks to see him wasting it like this, desperately trying to repeat what Gaspar Noé has done with his movie ‘Irreversible’, but failing completely to add an intellectual meaning and purpose to ‘The Neon Demon’.

This is definitely an unconventional movie, more like an art movie then telling a story with characters. If this is what you’re going for, the brilliant visuals will leave you satisfied and stunned. If you (like me) would rather see a good story, sharp dialogues, great acting and character development, you might be better off watching a movie by Gaspar Noé instead.

Nicolas Winding Refn could be an amazing director, but his indifference to the story and its characters prevent him from becoming great. So he just stays one of the most controversial directors in Hollywood today – he seems to be happy with that.

The Neon Demon (2016); directed by Nicolas Winding Refn; with Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks; distributed by Amazon pictures


Print Friendly, PDF & Email