Cinephiles have been anticipating Nicolas Winding Refn’s grotesque The Neon Demon since its
opinion dividing world premiere at Cannes.
The bold director of Drive holds nothing back in this stylish horror about beauty and the brutality it inspires.
Elle Fanning (Maleficent, Trumbo) is 16-year-old model Jesse, alone in Los Angeles and a picture of vulnerability. Jesse is an instant star but her success has disturbing side effects.
For Winding Refn, beauty represents both empowerment and weakness, igniting predatory desires in all those who surround it.
At the heart of The Neon Demon is a Narcissus-style transformation - a heady display of bright lights, dreamlike symbols and seductive electronic score - that sees Jesse embrace her supremacy. It’s blood to the sharks. The escalating psychological horror inflates jealousies and lusts but goes beyond a demonisation of the fashion industry to challenge our deep-rooted fetishisation of beauty.
Unpredictable and unorthodox, many of the film’s sinister and abhorrent images are simply unshakable. With cinematographer Natasha Braier, Winding Refn has created a visual masterpiece. Static cameras and intense red lighting produce images so disturbing and surreally perfect they twist glossy magazines into nightmare.
The Neon Demon shares its darkness with Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan and David Cronenberg’s Maps To The Stars. Yet the style is uniquely Nicolas Winding Refn: heady, intense and unafraid to shock. With cinematography and score, costume and make-up in impressive sync, The Neon Demon is a dizzying, potent tour-de-force.