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Film Review – The Neon Demon

2 min read

The latest offering from Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives), is a stunning and provocative piece of work which cements the director’s reputation as one of the most challenging and controversial filmmakers in contemporary cinema. Along with the likes of Lars Von Trier and David Lynch, Refn has a distinct, alluring artistic style which consistently pushes boundaries and takes you places that few would dare to go. While never an easy watch, Refn’s films are visually rich and ambitious. The Neon Demon will repel as well as captivate. It is a pulsating, hypnotic, celluloid nightmare.

Elle Fanning gives an utterly beguiling performance as Jesse, a small town girl who moves to L.A with dreams of becoming a model. Her natural beauty and alluring innocence soon attract the attention of important agent Roberta Hoffman (Christina Hendricks) and revered fashion designer Robert Sarno (Alessandro Nivola). Her rapid ascent in the industry evokes venomous wrath among fellow models Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee). Despite finding companionship with make up artist Ruby (Jena Malone) and aspiring photographer Dean (Karl Glusman), Jesse’s ambitions prove to be her downfall. She is ultimately thrust her into a world of unimaginable horror, where your peers will literally chew you up and spit you out to get ahead.


Refn’s previous films have been thematically concerned with machismo and male identity. The Neon Demon is unequivocally a story about women, female beauty and obsessive vanity. The glamorous allure of the Los Angeles fashion industry is flipped inside out and becomes a demonic presence in itself. The sun bleached vistas and dystopian underbelly of the city haven’t been injected with this much darkness since David Lynch’s seminal Mulholland Drive. The Neon Demon basically does for fashion what Lynch’s film did for acting. It creates a hellish, vacuous landscape where evil lurks around every corner. Fanning’s complex performance is complimented by deliciously nasty turns from Heathcote and Lee as fellow models who develop psychotic disdain for Jesse. Jena Malone is stunning as Ruby, while Keanu Reeves makes a repulsive but effective cameo as owner of the sleazy motel where Jesse resides. Complimented by the atmospheric electronic score from composer Cliff Martinez and spellbinding cinematography from Natasha Braier, the director’s vision is beautifully, and often grotesquely, realised.

The Neon Demon is packed with disturbing imagery but is less abrasive or graphically violent as Drive and Only God Forgives. The film’s most shocking moment is implied rather than explicit which actually elevates it’s impact. Nothing will prepare you for the jaw dropping final act though. When you emerge, your soul will be stained a shade darker for sure. Approach with caution. This is not for the faint of heart but if you like films which challenge your perception of the world and are willing to have your senses mangled, then The Neon Demon may well be the must see film of the year.