Nicolas Winding Refn is a divisive filmmaker among critics with his detractors labeling his films as style over substance and those who celebrate him proclaiming his films as visual masterpieces. The best example of Refn’s divisiveness as a filmmaker is Only God Forgives which was booed and cheered in equal measure at the Cannes Film Festival. One is just as likely to think Only God Forgives is a tedious waste of time as much as one would think it a visually hypnotic, deranged and violent masterpiece. I’m in the latter camp, and The Neon Demon has been described as a similar film to Only God Forgives, so I should love it right?
The Neon Demon serves as film that’s a critique of the modeling industry as 16-year old Jessie (Elle Fanning) arrives in LA looking for a modeling contract. First of all, the modeling agencies are seen to be willing to bend the rules by allowing a 16-year old to pose as a 19-year old. Things get worse once Jessie gets into the industry as she changes as a person (a well edited scene which has Jessie split into three different figures seems to be the starting point of this personality change) and becomes egotistical and arrogant, feeling that all models aspire to be her. For the other models, jealously and envy reign supreme as the other models are constantly in the doctor’s chair, fixing whatever they think needs fixing. They are also so driven by jealously they’d literally eat up and spit out a rival model.
Refn certainly has a lot to say about the modeling industry but it’s a film that can impress you as much as it can become tedious as certain scenes drag on too long and some other scenes have an almost unfathomable meaning. The film is certainly a little abstruse at times as it forgoes traditional narratives that modern audiences are accustomed to but the film is visually tremendous and eye-catching. Nobody quite frames a shot like Refn and any of his cinematographers as the film makes heavy use of red and blue colours to signify danger and the Greek myth Narcissus (Jessie’s narcissistic moment) respectively. Refn also effectively makes use of strobe effects and a pulsating score, both of which are electrifying.
There’s times you may feel that The Neon Demon is a slog as it’s confusing and interesting in equal measure. It’s a film likely to leave an impact, meaning that you will begin to mull it over for next few days and no film that’s truly bad will do that.