THE NEON DEMON – Review
Review by Stephen Tronicek
A recommendation of Nicolas Winding Refn’s, THE NEON DEMON prompts the fact that it contains brutal body horror, a sexual moment with a dead body, and serialistic uses of filmmaking technique. That’s where a simple recommendation would end as the people repulsed by such things would walk away. For that, I can’t blame you. THE NEON DEMON, in full estimation, is a deviant film, perverted to its core in many ways. But it is still a great film.
THE NEON DEMON has a plot, but it seems rudimentary. This is a filmmaking experiment carrying a deft and hard hitting message. Jesse (Elle Fanning) arrives in Los Angeles to become a model. She soon meets others lead by Ruby (Jena Malone) and slowly falls into the fearful, serene, and lustful world of the L.A. fashion industry.
But, again that’s all rudimentary. THE NEON DEMON is at its heart (much like much of Refn’s work and the Refn inspired Lost River) an experiment in the creation of emotions through film. The Neon Demon never holds your hand through any of the runtime, and yet gives you everything you need to understand the fury of the themes. It does so simply with lighting. Refn seems to want his audience to pay attention to every detail that he has put on screen and not simply soak into the redundant plot. He seems to want the signifiers of association to fuel his character’s ideals and emotion almost eliminating the need for expositional dialogue. The colors that halfway personify his characters have symbolic meaning, and essentially carry the emotions of the scene. Notice the black and white “cattle” colors that appear, and the abundance of blue and red. With them holding that end of the bargain it allows the actors to create interesting parallels only enriching these scenes.
The message it pushes through such scenes is a severely unsubtle one, and some of the dialogue does slip into being incredibly so, but it’s blatantly well intentioned in its vileness. The whole film is trying to give off the intense depression, and sickening feel that the fashion industry in some way represents, but through its lighting still makes an effort to show the beauty and sereness of it. It almost feels like a warning in film form of the dangers that the industry has. The body horror as well as the other shocking elements that the film represents only seems to valiantly if pervertedly be getting this message across.
The acting talent on display here is perfectly balanced to the filmmaking aspects with Elle Fanning giving one of her most exciting performances, and Jena Malone going all in on everything that Refn has her do (which is a whole lot of crazy). Even Keanu Reeves is given excellent allegorical weight, and such a presence is just the right person for that to happen too. Karl Glusman of Gaspar Noe’s Love is dropped quickly from the movie, but his place in the bigger things at play doesn’t seem important enough to make so much of a difference.
The bottom line is that despite its repulsiveness, THE NEON DEMON is a beautifully created film. It doesn’t always make the right moves as it plays out, but the overall effect is spellbinding. The emotions conveyed in each character, and the colors that occupy them are tear jerking and disgusting. Hopefully, you can experience them.
4 1/2 of 5 Stars