The Neon Demon

(2016)

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Title:
The Neon Demon
Release Date:
8th June 2016
Runtime:
117 min
MPAA Rating:
R
Genres:
Directors:
Nicolas Winding Refn
Writers:
Nicolas Winding Refn
Languages:
English
Stream Quality:
1080p / 720p / 480p

Storyline

When aspiring model Jesse 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.

Ratings

Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 51%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience 64%
IMDb Rating 7.0

Casts

Abbey Lee as Sarah
Elle Fanning as Jesse
Jena Malone as Ruby
Karl Glusman as Dean

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Giancarlo Cairella 24th June, 2016

Dangerous beauty

I wouldn't really recommend The Neon Demon unconditionally to my friends; not because it's a bad film (quite the opposite) but because it's the kind of movie that would inevitably lead some of them to think "he told me to watch it and said it was great. What kind of freak could possibly like that kind of stuff?" To call it "not for all tastes" is the understatement of the year, since the majority of audiences probably won't really appreciate its very droll mix of violence, cannibalism, dark comedy, necrophilia and fetishism. In fact, I will be very surprised if there isn't any condemnation or manifestation of outrage from groups or individuals arguing that it's yet another shallow male-directed film that objectifies, stereotypes and vilifies women. I'd also be willing to bet that Nicolas Winding Refn, who, like his fellow countryman Lars Von Trier, has a reputation for being a provocateur par excellence, had exactly this type of reaction in mind when he made it. There is a semi-gratuitous maybe-it's-a-dream sequence where a female character is forced to fellate a knife blade that seems designed precisely to elicit that sort of response. Deliberate excesses aside, The Neon Demon is possibly Nicolas Winding Refn's most straightforward narrative in a while (certainly more linear than Only God Forgives or Bronson). The film follows Jesse (Elle Fanning), a 16-year-old ingenue who moves to L.A. (or, to be exact, to a seedy motel in Pasadena, run by a sleazy and sinister manager played by a cast-against-type Keanu Reeves) hoping to become a model. Her naivete and awkwardness notwithstanding, she first catches the eye of a powerful model agency head (Christina Hendrickson), then an influential photographer (Desmond Harrington) and finally a big fashion designer (Alessandro Nivola) who casts her as the centerpiece of his new show, much to the chagrin of established models Sarah (Abby Lee) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote), who don't take kindly to being laid by the wayside to make room for a fresh new face. She is also befriended by Ruby (Jena Malone), a seemingly well- meaning fashion make-up artist who moonlights at the local mortuary by applying her skills to make cadavers more presentable, and by an impossibly nice young man named Dean (Karl Glusman) who would like to be Jesse's boyfriend and protector. This being a horror film, at least on the surface, things starts to get weird for Jesse when her new friend and rivals decide to do something about her rapid ascent to the rank of top model. To say more would stray into spoiler territory, so I'll stop here. Like Quentin Tarantino, Nicolas Winding Refn is a master regurgitator of old genre films. "Drive" was the bastard son of Michael Mann's "Thief" and Walter Hill's "Driver", with a few other ingredients tossed in for good measure (the film also owed a huge debt to Jean-Pierre Melville's "Le Samourai"). "The Neon Demon" is his love song to Dario Argento (in particular "Suspiria", which is visually and thematically referenced multiple times) and to countless Euro-thrillers from the seventies, starting with the fantastic but little-seen (in the USA) Belgian lesbian vampire/Countess Bathory retelling "Daughters of Darkness". Punctuated by a great electronic score by Cliff Martinez (which sounds like the best soundtrack that Goblin never wrote in the last 20 years), The Neon Demon is a visual feast that makes the neon- drenched "Drive" and "Only God Forgives" look almost drab by comparison. This is a gorgeous-looking film, set in beautiful locations, with a cast to match. The women are all impossibly beautiful and incredibly shallow and repellent at the same time: they look and move like poisonous snakes whose skin you would really like to reach out and caress, knowing full well that you are likely to receive a painful bite. Male characters on the other hand are almost uniformly visually unpleasant and slimy or feral-looking (Desmond Harrington's photographer in particular looks gaunt and menacing like a wolf circling a wounded animal). Only Dean, the prospective boyfriend, seems like a good, decent human being, but this is a movie that seems hell-bent on confirming the old adage that "nice guys finish last". Elle Fanning is good, especially at the beginning of the film where she is required to look shy and insecure -- in fact there are no weaklings in the whole cast. But the film belongs to Jena Malone, whose character undergoes the most startling transformation as the story progresses. Her performance is truly daring and committed and easily the most memorable in a film filled with weird and eye- catching characters. When you see the film, you'll know what I'm talking about. Although The Neon Demon is ostensibly a horror film, underneath all the scary movie trappings lies a very black (and bleak) comedy about a superficial world where appearances are everything and the only way to survive is to embrace (quite literally) a dog-eat-dog attitude. It's most definitely not a movie for everyone (and the only film in recent memory where a scene involving an act of lesbian necrophilia doesn't feel gratuitous and out of place), but it's the product of a talented director who has completed a metamorphosis, which began with Bronson (2009), from "simple" genre filmmaker into full- blown auteur, with a personal and distinctive visual and narrative style. If you are at all interested in cinema beyond regular multiplex fare, it's definitely worth investing 2 hours of your time.

Reviewed by jzonda415 21st June, 2016

Utterly Fantastic, but Not for Everyone

I will preface this by saying that if you haven't seen any other Refn movies, like "Drive" or "Only God Forgives," then you should see those first to see what you're getting into. I thoroughly loved this film, and will stand by in saying that it's an incredible movie. However, if you can't get through Refn's other works, or didn't really "get" them, then it won't deliver the same payoff that I received. To clarify, I'm not saying that if you hate this movie then you "just don't get it." But, seek out other Refn works first to see if you'll like something like this. This is an incredibly cerebral experience. It's is a lot of silent and dialogue free moments where you take in the world the movie cultivates. The cinematography, like in all of Refn's movies, is simply stunning. The colors craft the tone of the movie so effectively it tells a whole story with just itself; it almost is another character. Every shot feels expertly crafted, well put together, like a painting. No time in this 2 hour movie ever feels that wasted. Every shot feels necessary, every frame is splendid. The acting is also on point. Elle Fanning is perfectly cast as the main girl in this film. Her innocence, her shyness, her entire persona is conveyed very effectively. Many of the side characters also fit their character well. Keanu Reeves fit his character well, along with Abbey Lee. But Jena Malone stood out especially to me. The mannerisms of her character, the subtleties, the way she talked was fantastic. Without spoiling anything, a certain scene in this movie with Malone contains so much passion and emotion that I was completely blown away. She, along with Fanning, were my favorite parts of this. I would recommend this movie wholeheartedly, even knowing that it's really not for everyone. It's beyond strange and weird, and is a lot more visual storytelling than a solid narrative. It still has a story, nonetheless. If you're into that, then this may be for you, and you be able to get into it. If you're not, or are skeptical, then you will be disappointed. Nonetheless, I standby in saying this is a great film, and that there ought to be something in it you can enjoy. It's weird, it's strange, it's unique, it's f*cked-up, but it's also fantastic. 9/10

Reviewed by guccipix 21st June, 2016

A Mulholland Drive/Suspiria inspired film for this decade

The Neon Demon is yet another original effort and polarizing film from Nicolas Winding Refn. It was already both booed and applauded at Cannes, and this reaction is one I expect to play out when it gets its wide release. The film draws the viewer in with it's dazzling lighting and visuals, which remain throughout, but also with the mysteries it creates. The mystery of the film results in a compelling narrative, but the last half fails to capitalize on some of the themes and ideas it introduces. However, the main 1-2 ideas are well-developed and relevant. I won't spoil those ideas here, though. Another positive about the film is the soundtrack composed by Cliff Martinez, which is no surprise given the work he and NWR have done together in the past. While the soundtrack and visuals are certainly memorable, and the major themes are ones which I commend NWR for developing, my main gripe with the film is its over-indulgent nature. NWR has a fixation on violence and gratuity, and in the past I've had few problems with it, but in this film I felt it was taken too far. Things that other filmmakers would have implied with cues, Winding Refn shows us in great detail. Some will praise him for his willingness to show us what we don't want to see, others will condemn him. I just found most of these scenes to be unnecessarily over the top. Despite my comparing it to films such as Mulholland Drive and Suspiria, it doesn't feel derivative, but instead like a mostly original experience. On the whole I'd call The Neon Demon a very good film. It's much different from most of the releases so far this year, which alone makes it worth seeing. However, I would not recommend it to the faint of heart, or those with a general disdain for gore in film. Like most other divisive films, I expect that this one will be a subject of conversation for years to come. 7/10

Reviewed by Ruben Mooijman 18th June, 2016

Visually stunning, but without substance

In a way, this film is a perfect example of form following function. What better way to show how empty and perverse the model scene in Los Angeles is, than to make an empty and perverse movie about it? If Nicolas Winding Refn wanted to make this point, he has made it loud and clear. But the question is: did he really want to make this point? Or did he just want to take his cinematographic capabilities one step further, by taking the visual aesthetics to the limit, without bothering about the rest? 'The Neon Demon' is visually stunning, but lacks substance. The story about a 16 year old model being literally devoured by the fashion industry, is nothing more than a vehicle for the visual exuberance of the film. It is like a 'Vogue' magazine: there are many pages, but they are all filled with glamorous pictures, and very little text. You can browse through it, but it doesn't have a message, other than an endless display of beauty. To accentuate the perversion of it all, Winding Refn had added some horror elements, which almost seem ridiculous, especially at the end of the film. There's also an irritating and very prominent soundtrack. The acting is mostly unnatural and pretentious. But if you like browsing the latest edition of Vogue magazine, perhaps this is the film for you.

Reviewed by paddybass 25th May, 2016

A neon lit parable of big city poison.

Nicolas Winding-Refn is a director who defies all analysis. Most considered him a surefire "Commercial Success" following on from his exceptional adaptation, Drive back in 2011. However, against all odds Winding-Refn went darker, more subversive and all together more polarising with his 2013 release Only God Forgives. The Neon Demon is sure to be equally divisive. I was lucky enough to attend the red carpet premiere of the film in Cannes and was personally blown away by it's unique style & vision. It's long slider shots demand attention and draw attention to every minute detail on offer. It's use of mirrors encourages the viewer to look beyond the "real" world and examine what lies on the other side. Obviously, it goes without saying that this film looks amazing. If nothing else, most of Winding-Refn's supporters or critiques will admit that his films aesthetics are always incredible. However, despite the muted dialogues and slow pacing, the film gripped me for its full 110 minute run time. This was because, although the movie is a "horror", it's so much more. It's an examination of the human obsession with beauty. Elle Fanning does a remarkable turn as Jesse - a young runaway, trying to make it big in Los Angeles. Her beauty is so powerful that things begin to work to her favour almost immediately on her arrival. More over than that, her beauty seems to encapsulate and draw in those around her, while repelling her peers who scathe her. Her natural beauty is something that all the plastic surgery in LA can't generate. Jena Malone steals the film as Ruby - a make up artist who befriends Jesse as soon as she arrives in the town. She also introduces Jesse to the vacuous and vindictive pair of models played by Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee. If you haven't guessed already this is a film with a real focus on females. Although there are a handful of male characters (Dexters Desmon Harrington does an incredible turn as a high power fashion photographer), the focus here is all feminine. Even down to the decision to bring in a female DOP to shoot the film. There are too many twists and turns to get into here, but all I can say is that this could be Winding-Refn's most powerful movie to date. It's an analysis on the human condition and our obsession with natural beauty. It claws and scratches at our preconceptions and breaks us down, revealing the gooey centre; what makes us tick. Stellar performances, amazing visuals, a banging score and a unique storyline will cement this as a cult classic - of this I am sure. I cannot wait for the theatrical release if only to have more time to soak in the films dreamy visuals, take in more of the films subtexts and once again be blown away by the force of nature that is NWR.