Weekly Review: The Neon Demon (2016)

When young, fresh-faced Jesse moves to Los Angeles to start her career as a model, she is instantly swept up by professional photographers, seedy hotel managers, and other models who are jealous of her youth and popularity.

Before I saw The Neon Demon, I knew practically nothing about it. It was advertised to me heavily on one of my social media sites, but from that, all I knew was that it starred Elle Fanning, and it looked really pretty.

The Neon Demon definitely is a pretty movie. From an aesthetic standpoint, it’s absolutely gorgeous. Every shot is framed in a symmetrically compelling way, and the colors always pop. The lighting is pretty great throughout, except for a few small slip ups. There are several scenes that utilize color in more artistic ways. I watched the film twice, and I’m still unaware if these colors are intended to mean something, but they’re pretty to look at. It’s all very aesthetically pleasing.


Other than Elle Fanning, who does a pretty great job in her role as Jesse, The Neon Demon also features some other familiar faces. Jena Malone (The Hunger Games) plays Ruby, a makeup artist at professional photoshoots, who works a second job as a makeup artist for a morgue. Abbey Lee (Mad Max: Fury Road) and Bella Heathcote (Pride + Prejudice + Zombies) play Sarah and Gigi, competing models who quickly become jealous of Jesse’s luck. I was surprised to see Keanu Reeves in this film as the seedy motel manager, Hank. Other actors include Desmond Harrington (Dexter), Karl Glusman (Stonewall), and Christina Hendricks (Drive).

The director of The Neon Demon is Nicolas Winding Refn, a Danish film director, screenwriter, and producer. His work includes Drive, Bronson, Valhalla Rising, and Bleeder. From his filmography, the characters in his films undergo a transformation, and this definitely applies to The Neon Demon. In addition, Nicolas Winding Refn is color blind, and this applies to the large contrasts in color in his films, including this one.

While I was completely enthralled with the visuals in The Neon Demon, the story leaves much to be desired. The characters aren’t really fleshed out, and the story moves along very slowly. The characters could be written like this because the story is an attempt at showing shallow beauty standards in the modeling industry, but overall, it just made the slow burn of the story less interesting.

There are a lot of very dark things in this story, so I feel it is necessary to at least bring them up. There are scenes and implications of sexual assault, pedophilia, and necrophilia throughout the film. These are all very dark and psychologically horrifying subjects. While you probably wouldn’t classify The Neon Demon as a horror film, it kind of is non-traditional horror in that sense. Just be aware and prepared.

If I were to describe this film, I would probably describe it as experimental. As I mentioned above, it has a slower flow to it, and many of the scenes are literal interpretations of figurative concepts. The cut throat life of a model has Jesse being “eaten alive”, and in the end, some people are pretty “choked up” about it. I also noticed that the end of The Neon Demon has a possible homage to the surreal 1929 film Un Chien Andalou. This only solidified my interpretation of The Neon Demon as an experimental, maybe even surreal film.

Of course, with films like this, the audience is going to either love it or hate it. I heard that when the film debuted at Cannes, it was met with both boos and applause. This divisive reaction has given The Neon Demon a near, perfectly average rating.

Casting aside what other reviewers have said, The Neon Demon is definitely an experience. It’s visually stylish. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from all of the cinematography. That’s probably the part of this film that I would recommend the most. When it comes to the story and the characters, that’s where we hit our roadblocks. As a story, I wouldn’t recommend The Neon Demon.

In the end, if you are into cinematography, you might want to give The Neon Demon a shot, but if you’re a casual watcher, then you might just want to pass.


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