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article imageReview: ‘The Neon Demon’ is a spellbinding creature Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jun 24, 2016 in Entertainment
‘The Neon Demon’ is a mesmerizing picture with a stunning visual style that constantly demands and rewards the viewer’s attention.
In a sea of basic conformity and rehashed storylines, auteurs stand out more than ever. When a particular name is attached to a film, audiences know they can expect something outside the box — a specific style and feel that will likely be as contentious as their previous works, since anything with a resounding voice laid throughout tends to split people’s opinions one way or the other. Even though this is only Nicolas Winding Refn’s third theatrical release since the writer/director made a splash with Drive, he’s already been established as a director with a unique approach to filmmaking. Once again applying his signature to a fresh narrative, The Neon Demon is a stunning picture that definitely exhibits new influences.
Jesse (Elle Fanning) doesn’t feel as if she has much going for her, but she knows she’s pretty and she “can make money off of pretty.” She appears to be a fresh lamb for the slaughter, entering the jungles of Los Angeles smacking of naiveté and purity. However, she wasn’t wrong about her looks and soon top photographers and fashion designers are head over heels with instant adoration. The more success Jesse experiences, the more appetizing she appears to human predators; and the more she believes her own hype, the more vulnerable she becomes to them. As she falls further down the rabbit hole, what waits for her at the other end may not be the life she expected.
The visuals in this film range from arresting to aggressive as Refn captures everything from the beautiful yet sometimes grotesque to violent displays of colour and light. The opening scene zooms out to reveal a stunning scene of carnage, but is nothing when compared to the bloodlust revealed in the last act. Other scenes are bathed in green or red, transporting Jesse to what seems to be a secret dimension. Conversely, in other scenes strobe lights distort Jesse’s and the audience’s sense of space and happenings. And even though the technology is proof the story takes place in the present, there’s a layer of surrealism over everything that has become common in Refn’s films.
The story is based on the classic tale of a small-town girl leaving home to become a model/actress in the big city, but that’s where it deviates from convention. Those who are expected to take advantage of Jesse end up being her most reliable champions, while her so-called support system is just waiting for its moment to take her down. Moreover, the male gaze is replaced by a female’s as it’s immediately obvious the biggest threat Jesse faces is from the friendly stranger offering her friendship. But that doesn’t subjugate the creepy male landlord (Keanu Reeves) who openly expresses his fondness for the young runaways who take refuge in his motel. The idea of being chewed up and spit out is taken to heart in this story, which leads to some fascinating developments throughout the script.
Fanning walks a fine line between potential victim and manipulator, using the power of her youth to mesmerize everyone both subconsciously and intentionally. Consequently, she’s radiant through the entire movie. Other actors have less desirable roles, portraying violent, fetishistic characters. Reeves perfectly arouses viewers’ creep detector, as his grungy, stingy motel owner represents the obvious dangers of which Jesse must be aware. Jena Malone plays the gender-bending Ruby, who even in her strangest moments convincingly portrays character traits and actions usually confined to men. Her commitment and talent produce some of the film’s most impactful scenes.
It’s a very sexual film, but not in the traditional sense. It focuses on arousal, lust and consent, but not the act of sex itself. Jesse’s very presence and the way people look at her create an always-present eroticism, which finds less conventional outlets via cannibalism and necrophilia. Refn finds obvious influences in David Cronenberg and Dario Argento for this picture, but it also demonstrates a deeper understanding of his own style that he embraces thoroughly from start to finish. As the film likely raises many questions for audiences, the director has participated in numerous Q&As leading up to this weekend’s release including a Facebook session opening day.
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone and Keanu Reeves
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