Jealously ensues among a group of models when an aspiring 16-year-old, Jesse (Elle Fanning) takes Los Angeles by storm. Caught up in a fame and youth obsessed industry, both her innocence and vitality are devoured by a trio who will stop at nothing to possess her power.

You only have to take a glance at the trailer to see that this is the work of screenwriter and director, Nicolas Winding Refn. Made famous by the critically acclaimed Drive (2011) and the not-so-well received Only God Forgives (2013), Refn offers up another neon-soaked, cinĂ©ma du choc. The film opens to a stunning display of cinematography before introducing us to Jesse, a blood drenched prom-queen, delicately placed on a sofa as she is being photographed by her wannabe boyfriend. Despite the makeup, gown and blood, it is clear to us that Jesse is an innocent – soon to be swallowed whole by the cut-throat fashion world. The narrative itself is simple and lost amongst the chaos. The intense cinematography, though commendable and certainly thrilling, can be argued to distract from a basic story and script. Whilst all cast members offer up believable and engaging performances, much like Drive, there is actually little dialogue. Arguably, The Neon Demon is ultimately an arthouse piece.

The Neon Demon is Refn’s first female centred film and a unique, representation of the fashion industry that had yet to be have been depicted on the Big Screen. There are sequences which bring to mind Black Swan (2011, Darren Aronofsky) but the build-up and finale is far more colourful and unsettling. Having left a small town to move to LA, Jesse is completely alone but finds a friendly face in, Ruby (Jena Malone), a makeup artist and part time mortician. Knowing the dangers of creepy photographers and the toxic industry, Ruby is naturally protective over Jesse but introduces her to other models who, with their dead-eyed glances, try to break Jesse down. Presented almost as robotic, with no apparent personality, Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee) are the unadulterated embodiment of LA culture; plastic surgery, wealth and ever-clinging to youth and fame.

The predominant theme of The Neon Demon is innocence lost. Using various colour hews, Refn is able to create a mood and characteristic for each side of Jesse throughout her transition. Half way through the film, we see Jesse smile for the first time but it is a smile of conceit and evil having realised that she has bested another girl – a girl who was mean to her. Having discovered her power as a figure to be adored and as a woman, Jesse descends in to a state of ego and destruction. This is symbolised by the red neon triangle sequence which is pivotal to her upheaval. However, despite now showcasing Jesse as a woman, complete with a full face of makeup and sparkling dresses, Refn makes reference to her vulnerability and underlying innocence. In almost every scene, a possible danger is presented; an implication that spectators create themselves through the almighty power of suggestion.

At the front of our minds is her age and predicament; a 16-year-old girl who is forced to lie about her age and has no living family in a new town. As such, Jesse is constantly at risk of assault and being taken advantage of by those around her. This is made all the more dangerous by her growing confidence which, in turn, adds to her naivety and the unearned trust of those she encounters. There are both obvious and subtle references to this throughout including the representation of her seedy motel landlord, Hank (played by Keanu Reeves), who, though his role is brief, represents an ever-present danger.

What starts as a thriller narrative about the fashion world very quickly presents itself as a horror. Having drifted somewhat through mesmerising scenes and neon lights, this change in tone escalates the narrative from 1 to 100 in a matter of minutes. Many scenes are comparative to that of films such as The Guest (2014, Adam Wingard) and It Follows (2014, David Robert Mitchell) – complete with B-Movie undertones, 80s synthesized sounds, expressionist shadows and neon lit allies. In doing so, the narrative and mise-en-scene takes a step away from thriller conventions and enters the horror genre with, what can only be described as, the utterly grotesque. With several incredibly graphic and hard to watch scenes, the film is certainly not for the faint-hearted nor can it be unseen/unheard.

In the true style of a Refn film, Neon Demon is as hard-hitting and disturbing as it is stylised. Love him or hate Refn as a creative, spectators cannot question his ability to make film-goers feel and provoke response – whether that be fear, rage or disgust – they are all equally as valid. It is an ultra-stylised, narrative which will dazzle as much as it disturbs. All cast members, particularly Fanning offer up enticing performances although there is little dialogue. Whilst the film is certainly not style over substance, the stunning cinematography does distract from the narrative, though this is not necessarily a bad thing at all.

Movie Review: The Neon Demon
3.5Overall Score
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About The Author

Sophie Elizabeth

Sophie is a film blogger from South London with a degree in Film Theory and Major Production. Sophie currently works in digital marketing but in her spare time you'll find her writing reviews or at the cinema. Sophie loves all things Star Wars and Hollywood but having specialized in the Horror genre, monsters are her first love. She'll watch absolutely anything given the chance - you can find her also on her blog, http://www.popcornandglitter.co.uk Twitter: https://twitter.com/sophieathawes