Nicolas Winding Refn returns to the Croisette with The Neon Demon; a highly stylized, visually stunning and provocative horror film set in the fashion world of Los Angeles. Both of his previous films – the critically acclaimed crime drama Drive (2011) and the quite polarizing revenge thriller Only God Forgives (2013) – played in the official competition and Winding Refn was awarded with the Best Director Award for Drive back in 2011.
[…] Winding Refn highlights not only the superficiality of the industry but also the general obsession with beauty and age in a world where models are about to retire at the young age of 21 […]
In The Neon Demon, Elle Fanning stars as Jesse, a young wide-eyed girl from Georgia who moves to Los Angeles to make it as a model in the tough fashion industry. Unlike her competitors, there is something special about her and her agent (Christine Hendricks) promises that she is going to be great since she is different from the other girls who come to her agency. Make-up artist Ruby (Jena Malone) is immediately mesmerized by Jesse and develops a personal interest in her. Soon, Jesse is getting increasingly popular as photographers and designers are fascinated by her beauty while she stirs jealousy among her fellow models. She is aware of her natural beauty and the effect it has on the people surrounding her - the other models, mainly Sarah (Abbey Lee) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote) would literally kill to look like her or even be her. Jesse is getting comfortable in her new role as she is desired by men and women alike. When she confronted by her lover Dean (Karl Gusman) she explains that she does not want to be like the other women; the other women want to be like her. Her development from a reserved and innocent teenager into a narcissist is well executed and interesting to witness.
One of the designers states that “beauty isn’t everything, it is the only thing.” Through that, Winding Refn highlights not only the superficiality of the industry but also the general obsession with beauty and age in a world where models are about to retire at the young age of 21, as it is mentioned in the film. The Neon Demon further focuses on the sexual objectification of the female body and provokes with scenes that include a disturbing necrophilia scene for example.
The filmmaker, mostly known for working with Ryan Gosling lately, shifts the focus to a female perspective in his fifth feature. To create an authentic image of not just Jesse but the quartet of female characters and to give them the right voice, Winding Refn teamed up with playwrights Polly Stenham and Mary Laws, who both have a background in the world of theater and would give his script an additional, different angle.
The filmmaker, mostly known for working with Ryan Gosling lately, shifts the focus to a female perspective in his fifth feature.
Below-the-line, Winding Refn collaborated with familiar faces such as editor Matthew Newman, who had previously worked on the features Bronson (2008), Valhalla Rising (2009), Drive (2011) and Only God Forgives (2013). Interestingly, unlike the common practice in the industry but quite common for the Danish filmmaker, The Neon Demon was shot in its chronological order to possibly change the course of the story - a logistic challenge but a creative advantage, mainly for the development of Fanning’s character into a narcissist. The only scene that was not shot chronologically is the aforementioned highly provocative necrophilia scene. The images shot by cinematographer Natasha Braier are highlighted by Winding Refn’s characteristic neon lights and are accompanied by a percussive electronic score. For the score, the filmmaker collaborated with composer Cliff Martinez, who had worked on the scores for Drive and Only God Forgives. The temporary, electronic score were filled with samples from the work of Bernard Herrmann (who composed the scores for Hitchcock) to create a similar and suitable mood for the horror thriller.
The Neon Demon is a beautiful shot and obviously highly stylized film with shocking, absurd and often over-the-top twists and turns that split the audience in Cannes.