I just finished watching The Neon Demon, written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive). I made a list of all the films I didn’t get to see in 2016 but wanted to and The Neon Demon was among the top titles on the list. I really, REALLY want to review this film for you without spoiling anything, so I’ll do my best.
The quick synopsis is as follows: Sixteen year old Jessie, played by Elle Fanning, moves to L.A. to become a model. She soon discovers that in a world of nipped, tucked and modified beauty, her natural radiance sets her apart from the other, more experienced girls in the business. She quickly catches the eye of some influential players in the modeling industry, as well as the eye of some jealous and unstable competitors. What ensues is a slow burning psychological thriller, peaking with one hell of a mind-fuck during the last 15 minutes or so.
The modeling industry has been under fire for a long time for its body shaming and various other psychological impacts on young women. The Neon Demon does absolutely fucking nothing to alleviate any of that opprobrium. While the film certainly promotes the old adage that “beauty lies within,” it does so in a terrifying way, the result of which (for me, anyway) is the urge to go out and hug the first teenage girl I see with a perceived image issue.
This a beautifully shot film, with the colors and strobe effects throughout helping to break up the slower moving parts of the plot. If you’ve read some of my other articles, you’ll know that I’m a total sucker for flicks with great soundtracks, and The Neon Demon will probably get an extra star bump from me for its soundtrack alone. The music really acts as its own character in this film. Part of the reason that the tunes are so effective is that there are some really fantastic scenes where there is absolutely NOTHING but dialogue, and the music lets us know that we’re taking a few more uncomfortable steps forward.
Let’s finish up by talking about the climax of this film. Let’s just say that it’s one of those “mixed view” topics, shall we? Even within the mystical walls here at HorrorGeekLife central command, not all of us share the same feelings about the ending of this movie. Some will say that the slow burn of the first couple acts were the best part, and that the ending simply didn’t have the payoff they were looking for. As for me, I watched the ending and literally tucked my knees up on the couch and shouted, “No fucking way!”
I was blindsided, and I think there’s value in that. I actually re-watched the last fifteen minutes and picked up on a few elements I’d missed at first glance.
Love it or hate it, The Neon Demon isn’t a flick you’ll soon forget, and I chalk this one up at 4 out of 5 stars.