The Neon Demon (rated 18), directed by the opinionated, edgy and unshy Danish powerhouse Nicolas Winding Refn, hits on the fashion – more specifically modelling – industry for its vulgarity, emptiness and insatiable obligation for perfection like thousands of films before it have done. But Refn made it sexier with flashing lights and deep bass, he made this film moodier with acerbic writing and caricaturish characters. He recreates the insanity and the loneliness of being at the top, the fleeting feelings of acceptance and euphoria, and the crushing deprecation from those who are hot towards those who for some genetic aesthetic faux pas are not.
So small town girl Jesse (Elle Fanning), wide-eyed and innocent looking like a young Sissy Spacek has had a friend snap a few shots of her dolled up and dead-eyed (she’s posing dead on a chaise lounge) and she’s straight up got what everybody wants. She’s an angelic natural blonde, 16 years old and glowing radiantly from every angle like she’s eaten the Fountain of Youth. Christina Hendricks, like Matthew McConaughey in Wolf of Wall Street, appears briefly. Here, as a talent agent – an impressed, awe-struck agent – she compares Jesse to the other girls; how she sees little cutie-pie country bumpkins every week but none like Jesse, no, “You’re going to be great” she finishes with, encouragingly.
And henceforth down the rabbit-hole young Jesse tumbles. Holed up alone in a cheap motel Jesse combats loneliness by maintaining her “friendship” with her original photographer and diving into the “social” scene where America’s tallest, thinnest and emptiest elite look at one another piercingly, “who’re you f-ing?” she’s asked repeatedly by the other models who at first are clearly too self-absorbed to see what the agents, photographers and designers are inevitably going to be turned on by. I say turned on deliberately, one particular designer brutally ignores the “who’re you f-ing?” girl and, upon seeing Jesse, hilariously and orgasmically oozes wonderment and you can see the inspiration forming into design ideas in the light of his eyes.
Refn moves The Neon Demon along with quiet discussion and deliberately bland, robotic situations that paint a picture of what people in the industry can be like. Very pretentious characters pour over their own ego and brag of their work whilst still seeming hugely defensive and insecure, immediately attacking one another to protect their image when the need arises. These more refined scenes are merely intervals in the visual spectacle of several sensational scenes that portray the manic high-energy party lifestyle, the euphoria of being the undisputed best, the hysteria in finding sadness during moments of self-realisation. The combination of light and dark emotional times for Jesse and the visualisation of these abstract human urges like wanting to be a recognised individual but still part of a community with the gritty Refn twists make for a thoroughly entertaining film. The music is electrifying and contributed further to my feeling that Gaspar Noé was a major influence here (many moments derivative of Enter The Void and even the presence of Karl Glusman from Noé’s Love, another incredibly provocative film).
To summarise, this is a work that’s clearly a progression of Refn’s oeuvre, it takes from but is not particularly similar to all of the Director’s work, which is hugely commendable. The sets, costumes and general seething vibe throughout brought about a tone which I felt could exist in the cut-throat world of high-fashion.
A must-watch, stay for the music video/credits sequence thing, it’s sick.