The Neon Demon has been described as “weird” by many people, it is weird, slightly, but not in a plot sense, it is slightly weird overall. This is the latest work from Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson, 2008), who has made a name for himself in giving us movies which are stylistically his own. The movie can be described as a horror, but it is perhaps more a satire or allegory for the dreams and jealousies of the fashion industry. If it had been written 150 years ago it would have been on a par with the Grimm fairy tales (before Disney and the polite crowd tamed them).
One of the first things to hit you about this movie, even before the story starts to take hold, is that stylistically it is an homage to the works of Dario Argento. Scenes such as the first meeting between our doe-eyed new girl, Jesse (Elle Fanning (Trumbo, 2015) and make-up artist “Ruby” (Jena Malone Inherent Vice, 2014) in the changing room of a photo-shoot are purely Argento, through-out many of the key scenes are the cinematography of Argento, even smaller seemingly minor shots are taken from the Italian Maestro (the hallway chase near the end is purely him) Indeed certain scenes and even plot lines seem to be taken straight from Susperia (Dario Argento, 1977).
The Story revolves around a young girl, Jesse (Elle Fanning, Trumbo, 2015), who is seen as having a natural look superior to the plastic augmented “false” beauty of many of the others. A boy, Dean (Carl Glusman, Embers 2015) she met, takes some photographs for her, which get her in to an agency (she had promised to “drop his name” but did not) She is befriended by a make-up artist, Ruby who brings here to a party where she meets Gigi (Bella Heathcote (The Rewrite, 2014) and Sarah (Abbey Lee, Mad Mad Fury Road, 2015) a friendship of sorts begins due to Ruby’s efforts, immediately the digs and barbed comments begin, under the guise of opinions on the industry.
Ruby’s star continues to rise, while the others are left in shock as to how a “rough-diamond” like her with no plastic work can get work-on. This is all against the background of her own life and where she is living in a seedy motel, managed by an equally low-life, Hank (Keanu Reeves, John Wick, 2014). Reeves is excellent as the manager, projecting the seediness and darkness of the location. The darker side of the modelling industry is constantly referred to, be it Ruby’s age (she turned 16 a couple of weeks before coming to LA), while her own boyfriend, the slightly older Dean, at first is rightly shocked by her age, only to have come to terms with it, within a few hours (as he tries to kiss her). Ultimately the motel becomes an allegory for the seedy nature of the modelling world and the young people aspiring to fame. One can only imagine the symbolism of the mountain-lion at lose in her room at one stage.
The violence in the movie draws very much from the imagery, and expectation. This is a visually stunning piece. Even the soundtrack harkens back to the music of Goblin and their work on th elikes of Suspiria. That said it can also be put against David Lynch’s Mullholland Drive (2001) as we see a young hopeful aspiring Hollywood starlet coming up against the dreams, aspirations and failures of those who would make their fortune in LA. One can also see hints of Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin, (2013), nowhere more so than in the photo-shoot with the legendary “Mark” (Desmond Harrington, Dexter, 2008).
Visually it is fantastic, however the Horror element is a little underwhelming, we see so much of Argento, that we expect his horror touches, we get hints of them, but ultimately the horror is not in stomach turning detail, but realisation of the blood lust to gain the “thing” which the younger model had. Some people will love this film, many others will hate it. It is not a film for amateurs, you have to want to watch it, and experience it.
7/10, it would be higher, except I think the plot suffered a little by being overly recognisable as an homage to Argento, as a result, I was constantly expecting something that did not happen.