The Neon Demon Review
Does the name Nicolas Winding Refn ring a bell? If not, you might have caught a couple of his movies. "Bronson," starring Tom Hardy, is available on Netflix right now and was on my list of the 100 best movies of the 21st Century so far. Its hypnotic in the way it examines the life of Charlie Bronson, a criminal who seemed to enjoy jail more than the world outside. What Refn is most well known for is "Drive," with Ryan Gosling, the movie that really put Refn on the map as a filmmaker. It also gave him the creative license to make whatever he desired. That led him to "Only God Forgives," a movie I still have mixed feelings about. Now, Refn has made "The Neon Demon," a psychological thriller that tackles the fashion world.
The plot of "The Neon Demon" is simple. Jesse (Elle Fanning) is a 16-year-old who moved to Los Angeles to be a model. She quickly gains acceptance and popularity in the field and this revelation disrupts her relationships with her make-up and model friends Ruby (Jena Malone), Sarah (Abbey Lee Marshall), and Gigi (Bella Heathcote). Sarah and Gigi plan to stop Jesse's rise to fame by any means necessary. When Jesse arrives in Los Angeles, she is sweet and innocent and when she discovers her friends are actually her dissenters, she turns to her own dark side to protect herself.
That's essentially the movie. Sure, there is a sub-plot with Jesse's motel manager (Keanu Reeves) that goes nowhere. Jan (Christina Henricks) initially hires Jesse, but she only shows up for one scene. That is the biggest problem with "The Neon Demon." Its a half-hour short film stretched to two hours. There is a story there, just like there is a story inside each of Refn's motion pictures, its just very, very simple. So simple that stretching it out feels more like an endurance test rather than entertainment.
So what takes up so much time? This is a typical Refn picture. His movies literally fit the bill for a definition of "motion pictures." His movies feel like real art, his scenes feel like pictures that have come to life on the canvass. It is a dour understatement to simply to say Refn's "The Neon Demon" is beautiful to look at, because it certainly is. The movie is filled with breathtaking scene over breathtaking scene. How he is able to get his actors to pose in a stylish is something remarkable I don't think many directors can pull off, Refn makes it look effortless. This is a movie also not for the faint of heart. Refn movies are naturally fairly violent, there is a scene right before the credits roll in particular that has the possibility to force you to toss your cookies. So be warned.
The performances are all excellent. Elle Fanning could emerge from this has a worthwhile, capable film actress. She delivers a potent and real performance with mesmerizing ease. Whenever there is a time when Keanu Reeves has a half-way decent performance, its also worth mentioning. Reeves is actually quite fantastic in his role. Malone, Heathcote and Marshall deliver as well.
If you've seen any of the movies listed above, you probably have a good idea whether this is for you or not. If you haven't seen a Refn movie yet, I don't know if I would start with "The Neon Demon."
FINAL GRADE: B-