Blu-ray Review: The Neon Demon
By John Corrado
★ (out of 4)
Jesse (Elle Fanning) is a sixteen year old aspiring model who is fresh to Los Angeles, where she is staying at a seedy motel, and befriends a makeup artist (Jena Malone). But as Jesse learns to navigate the world of fashion runways and sleazy photographers, she has to contend with more established models who see the young newcomer as a threat to their careers, and thirst for her blood.
Although The Neon Demon starts as a narratively thin but somewhat intriguing and appropriately chilly work that I was willing to admire if not totally embrace, rarely has a film devolved so quickly into something that I despised almost completely. Despite some impressive cinematography and highly stylized production design, as well as a typically good performance from Elle Fanning, this is a film that I can’t consciously recommend on any level.
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, channeling the worst impulses of Brian De Palma and pilfering from a myriad of superior influences, the film takes a lurid and sensationalistic turn partway through that it never recovers from, entering schlock horror territory and becoming something completely morbid and perverse in the last act. The depictions of overtly sexualized violence, including a nauseating scene of graphic necrophelia, are nothing short of exploitative, not to mention offensive considering the predatory and antagonistic portrayal of a lesbian character, an unfortunately predictable trope that feels outdated by several decades. As a final turnoff, the film ends with a scene that has the distinction of being both sickening and entirely ridiculous, seemingly only there to make us cringe one last time.
With poorly written characters and a practically non-existent plot, The Neon Demon is gaudy trash masquerading as art, a work of style over substance that is utterly hollow and pointless in terms of having any real meaning. As a grand statement on the falseness of the modelling industry, it’s as subtle as a sledgehammer, and as empty as the fashion world that it purportedly tries to expose. This is little more than a self-serving outlet for Nicolas Winding Refn to realize his most twisted fantasies, or worse maybe even normalize them, and we need to all stop indulging him in that.
The Blu-ray also includes commentary by Nicolas Winding Refn and Elle Fanning, as well as the two brief featurettes Behind the Soundtrack of The Neon Demon and About The Neon Demon.
The Neon Demon is a D Films release. It’s 117 minutes and rated 18A.