The Neon Demon Review

The Plot

When aspiring model Jesse (Elle Fanning) moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.

The Good

Director Nicolas Winding Refn mixes his art house style with the world of fashion in this dark and disturbing tale of beauty and youth. With Elle Fanning as the main subject, the Drive director has a demanding presence for the films centerpiece and Fanning provides an utterly compelling performance as 16 year old Jesse.

Two of The Neon Demon’s biggest assets come from the tantalising score that harkens back to the electro style of Winding Refn’s previous films, and the fantastically dazzling lighting used throughout. Whether it’s the dark red lighting or the bright white or the elegant use of strobe lighting, it’s difficult to find a shot in the two hour runtime that doesn’t drip with beauty.

The Bad

Unfortunately the score and cinematography aren’t enough to give The Neon Demon much accessibility for general audiences. If you’re not one for art house films but perhaps were won over by Refn’s previous films such as Bronson or Drive, this is much harder to sink your teeth into. While the surface of the film is easy enough to follow, the many directions the plot takes some drastic twists and turns giving it an incredibly uneasy tone. Themes of unspeakable sexual taboos and cannibalism are also thrown in. Such provocative elements could have worked without an elaborate art house facade, but instead they only serve to make the film more unbearable and uncomfortable viewing.

Even then, the story feels far too thin, with the film ultimately feeling more like beauty over substance, which is ironic given the very theme it is attempting to explore. Aside from the overall look and sound of the film, the story never really takes flight, instead moving from scene to scene looking like it’s trying desperately to pay homage to art house styles from obscure films which the majority of the audience will perhaps not even have heard of.

Clocking in at nearly 2 hours, The Neon Demon emits a notion of being long for longevity’s sake. Take away thirty minutes (including the unnecessary addition of Keanu Reeves as a creepy motel owner) and you would still have the exact same film. At the very least you’d have something more economic and watchable. A tighter runtime would at least  have afforded Refn less time to waste on strange scenes of a cougar trashing a motel room.

The Ugly Truth

Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest is a beauty to behold, but it’s story lacks any real interest. Alongside the stunning visuals and fantastic music, The Neon Demon drags out some frankly unsettling sequences without  offering much justification. The films apparent efforts to shock and outsmart audiences will not be welcomed outside of a dedicated art house crowd.

Review by Johnny Ellis

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