“The Neon Demon” is the latest indie film by auteur filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn, whose last few films have captivated audiences with “Drive” and “Only God Forgives.” “The Neon Demon” stars Elle Fanning in the lead role as Jesse, an aspiring model who moves to Los Angeles. As she rises in fame and beauty, she becomes entangled with three beauty obsessed models who willl do anything to obtain her beauty and purity. The film co-stars Jenna Malone, Bella Heathcoate, Abbey Lee, Keanu Reeves and Christina Hendricks.
“The Neon Demon” is shaping to be one of the most praised and worst films of this year. This is definitely not a film for everybody, most people in fact. But whether you love or hate the film, there’s one thing that everyone can take away from this picture. This is cinematic surrealism at its best and Nicolas Winding Refn has crafted a very unique visual film with style and a tremendous amount of twisted substance. If I were to tell you what to expect from this film, the best way to describe it would be to say that “The Neon Demon” is a mashup of David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” and Darren Aronovsky’s “Black Swan.” Both films deal with young women with big dreams who do anything to become a part in the Hollywood spotlight. And “The Neon Demon” is just the same, if not amped up to 11.
The visuals in this film are breathtaking, with brightly colored neon reds and blues, with strobe lights and surrealist shapes and images that make you feel like you’ve just dropped acid. There are parts of this film that are just so out there and bizarre, it makes you question what is real and what isn’t, what’s happening and what’s not. I love when experimental filmmakers like Lynch, Aronovsky or Refn toy with the audiences perception, and that’s exactly what “The Neon Demon” does. The music and long drawn out takes are also a surreal and haunting experience that engulfs the viewer from the start and sucks you in to this rabbit hole of fascination and wonderment. This is a very stylized and trippy film but at the same time it is gorgeous to look at.
The actors did an amazing job with this script. Elle Fanning was mesmerizing as Jessie, the innocent lolita who goes too far to achieve beauty and fame. Jenna Malone was also really good her as her makeup artist Ruby and Bella Heathcoate and Abbey Lee were also amazing in their supporting roles. Keanu Reeves was great in a smaller role as the creepy motel manager and out of all the actors, it was Elle Fanning who stole the spotlight. Fanning is like a canvas, and whatever dress or gown or makeup or whatever is on her body, she is beautiful to look at. She essentially becomes this amazing portrait that Refn is painting in true spirit of Salvador Dali. Refn and Fanning pushed the limit with this film and they pushed hard, because some of the things that happen are jaw dropping moments that shocked me.
A big thing in this movie is symbolism. The obvious one being the neon triangle that Elle Fanning is constantly seeing in her dreams and nightmares. Sometimes the triangle is upside down and sometimes when she’s standing in it it’s right side up. The V, or upside down triangle is a symbol for the womb, or a female symbol while the right side up is the symbol for male genitalia, or male. There are constant illusions to male and female sexuality which is very prominent here. And the fact that Elle Fanning’s character is standing in a womb shows that she is purely an innocent, with no sexual experience in her life. Without giving away the shocking finale, I will just say that the end is symbolic, in a way that Aronovsky’s “Black Swan” was symbolic. People are only perfect in death, and the ending to “The Neon Demon” shows that symbolism and also contains a nice nod to the surrealist film “Un Chien Andalou,” where a man slices open a woman’s eye, before turning into the moon.
As I said before, this film is not for every one. It is majestic, violent and greatly disturbing but also masterful surrealist filmmaking at its finest. This film is horrific beauty that stays with you for days and requires multiple viewings to decipher the hidden meanings, clues and symbols. But if you take a chance on Refn and let him take you there, you just might walk out of “The Neon Demon” with an appreciation to surrealism and experimental filmmaking. Refn is the best that we have now and his films are wholly original, unique and mesmerizing. “The Neon Demon” is frightening and all encompassing, and it was quite a trip.