Thursday, 14 July 2016

THE NEON DEMON review

Starring Elle Fanning as a young woman eager to make it in the cutthroat world of modelling, Refn's divisive commentary on the fashion world arrives in cinemas.

After receiving a reception at Cannes that can be described as mixed at best, The Neon Demon hits our cinema screens in typical Nicolas Winding Refn fashion; sharply tailored by master craftsmen and sealed with a monogram.

The Neon Demon begins with the startling image of Elle Fanning's Jesse lain across a chez lounge with blood across her neck. However, this isn't the scene of a gruesome murder; this is a fashion shoot. It's a cold, often heartless world we're introduced to. In the waiting room for Christina Hendricks' powerful executive, she points at a girl and tells her to go without any pleasantries, just an off hand dismissal that could destroy the hopes and dreams of a young girl.

Taking its cues from other slightly barmy, hyper stylised takedowns of their respective industries like Black Swan and in particular Showgirls, what at first appears to be all surface soon flips the page to reveal something much darker hiding in the centrefold.

Like Refn's Drive and Only God Forgives before, The Neon Demon uses a lurid colour palette to paint its picture. Among the reactions from Cannes was the accusation that this was little more than sumptuous wallpaper, but it's a truly beautiful film to look at with undeniable substance under the surface. Refn's influences are clear to see, with David Lynch's Lost Highway and Dario Argento's Suspiria being obvious touchstones.

Fanning has an almost ethereal quality about her, and exhibits beauty in an almost alien way. She deserves praise for creating nuance in her performance. With her impressively long, swan like neck and skin like milk, she could easily fit in with the more vacuous people this film depicts. Like the film itself, which could have been just shallow and pretty to look at, she adds layers and hidden depths to Jesse's seemingly innocent small town girl in the big city. When one of the more fragile of her contemporaries comments that "nobody likes the way they look", she takes her down with a simple "I do".

Among the supporting characters is Jena Malone's Ruby; a seasoned pro who's seen how the industry can chew up fresh meat and spit them out again. Malone is outstanding in the role, bringing forth a palpable sense of desire in an often cold and uncaring world.

There's gender politics at play here too. Although the cast is almost completely female, the roles occupied by men are those of abusive power. They are the photographers that demand that Jesse strips naked. They are the designers who refuse to watch some models as they walk for them. They are the motel owners who take advantage of people in a vulnerable situation.

One would assume this was a knowing wink to the audience from Nicolas Winding Refn about his role as director. After all, this is a film full of mirrors.

A poison pen love letter to the fashion industry with some beautiful imagery, as it pushes forward into its horror infused final act The Neon Demon is a hallucinatory nightmare that needs to be experienced to be believed.

Verdict
4/5

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