THE NEON DEMON
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Ellie Fanning, Jena Malone, Karl Glusman, Bella Heathcote, Abby Lee
17 year old Jesse heads to Hollywood to try and make it in the modelling business. Arriving at an agency with a set of portraits taken by her boyfriend Dean, she finds that she has exactly the right look that fashion photographers are after. However she also discovers what a dog-eat-dog world of bitchiness and obsession the modelling community is. After making friends with make-up artist Ruby, she's introduced to Gigi and Sara, two well-established models who soon feel threatened by Jesse's natural beauty…
After the commercial success of "Drive", Nicolas Winding Refn's films have become more divisive with audiences. Only God Forgives left a lot of people cold, and The Neon Demon is prompting an even stronger "love it/hate it" reaction - celluloid marmite, indeed.
Lucky for me, I absolutely loved it. Where some consider this to be slow, I see it as meticulous and atmospheric. The photography in this film is just…at a different level to anything else I've seen this year. Other than Refn's previous film, the nearest touchstones I can think of are Panos Cosmatos' Beyond The Black Rainbow, or Amer, directed by
Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani. Similarly, the soundtrack is absolutely beautiful and really helps to create this otherworldly atmosphere, and its 80's style synth sound gives the film a timeless quality (and at times bears a remarkable similarity to the score of the excellent tv series, Stranger Things).
Ellie Fanning is perfect as Jesse, a completely naïve young woman who nevertheless understands the power her beauty has. After a disastrous meeting with Dean and a famous photographer, She confides in him - "I don't want to be like them: They want to be like me!" There is an amazing sequence where, during a catwalk show, Jesse enters a neon prism, and its as if her personality being reflected back at her shifts from one mirror to the next, leaving you unsure which is the real Jesse. It’s a great bit of acting by Fanning.
As the film progresses, it gets darker and weirder. Its no glib thing that the film has been compared to some of David Lynch's work, in particular Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway. There is one scene in particular which really pushes the envelope (clue: it involves a corpse), and narratively things get even weirder from there, to say the least!
I don't want to say too much about this film. Like Train to Busan, this thrills, but in a completely different way. It's simultaneously abstract and immersive, cerebral and primal.
10 out of 10 (MikeOutWest) - highly recommended.