Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon
Leon casino, An innocent teen (Elle Fanning) arrives in Hollywood and proceeds to take the modeling industry by storm while at the same time earning the enmity of her colleagues. Jena Malone, Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote co-star with cameo appearances by Keanu Reeves as a sleazy motel manager, Christina Hendricks as an agency head and Alessandro Nivola as a fashion designer.
Refn doesn’t serve up sadism or cinema of cruelty to his audience as, say, directors like Todd Solondz (Wiener-Dog) or Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster), yet his imagery is distinct and disturbing. Previous Refn films like Drive or Only God Forgives are more violent yet more accessible than Neon Demon.
Refn’s pacing is methodical while all the different elements combine to overwhelm the viewer with atmosphere. Cliff Martinez’s score utilizes what can only be called a pure expression of 1970s synthesizer sensibility. The cinematography of Natasha Braier keeps even daytime sequences in low-key lighting. Elliott Hostetter’s production design flourished with inventiveness whether it’s a run down motel room or a high gloss model runway.
Despite the pure visual beauty of the film, there’s a severity to the plot that demands an appreciative audience. Too atrocious for the art house crowd, yet not gory enough for horror mavens, The Neon Demon has a singular agenda that will lend it cult status to the knowledgeable few.
Fanning finds herself besieged by jealousy from her cohorts because of her youth and natural beauty. But once a person finds success in Refn’s twisted landscape, can vampirism, necrophilia and backstabbing be far behind?
“The Neon Demon” opens this Friday.