I remember watching “Drive” for the first time and thinking it was one of the coolest, smartest films I had ever seen. The music. The cinematography. The simplicity. It’s no surprise that my reaction after seeing “The Neon Demon” is almost the same one I had after finishing “Drive.” A bit of shock and awe. Nicolas Winding Refn directed both films and in “The Neon Demon,” he tackles the world of fashion and modeling in his signature style.
The film centers on a teenage girl, Jesse (Elle Fanning), who has just moved to L.A. and signs with an agency after meeting with top exec Jan (Christina Hendricks), who says she has what it takes to not just be good, but “great.” It seems as if this mysterious girl from nowhere is about to hit the big leagues, but not without making some modeling frenemies in the form of two soon to-be-former top models, Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee). She does make a friend in make-up artist Ruby (Jena Malone).
Refn transports us to another world, and for a good chunk of the film, I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what I was watching, but I was intrigued enough to stay with it and the payoff at the end was worth waiting for.
Fanning was great in her role as Jesse, portraying not only innocence, but confidence as well. We follow her as she takes the modeling/fashion world by storm with her “IT” factor. To portray the most beautiful thing to hit the runway is not an easy feat, but Fanning convinces us she has what it takes to command a film.
There’s no escaping the vibrant neon colors splashed across the screen and ‘80s retro futuristic vibe that’s prominent throughout the film. Refn not only tackles hard issues of beauty, anorexia, and the fight to stay relevant in an unforgiving world of high fashion, but disguises it within a horror, thriller, sci-fi themed film. How does one even do that? Keanu Reeves makes a cameo as Hank, the sleezy motel owner, where Jesse is staying. A Reeves appearance always brings a smile and he shines in his little screen time.
The music did strike a chord with in resemblance to “Drive” to evoke and set the tone. This film is not heavy in dialogue and is similar to “Drive” in that it’s driven by music, rhythm, suspense and a whole lot of mystery. At the heart of the film, it’s a teenage horror flick: it doesn’t come in the size and shape of the normal commercial horror films geared towards girls and that’s really the genius of Refn’s films. He managed to make a film about the horror of beauty and packaged it in neon.
There’s a lot of undertones and themes in “The Neon Demon” that will stay with you after you finish the film. I think some of the film is open to interpretation and as an audience it adds to the mystery and horror of the film. Is this a film about two top models trying to get rid of the next big thing? Is this is a love story? Or is it something even darker? Refn refers to in an interview that he was trying to go for “A Valley of the Dolls” kind of film.
Overall, I think Refn has created a work of art that needs to be seen and experienced.
“The Neon Demon” hits theaters June 24.
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