The Neon DemonCannes Film Festival 2016
Psycho or psychedelic? Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon is so aesthetically beautiful it’s hard to understand what just happened. Feeling like either a pure masculine fantasy dipped in gold and glitter or a monumental fashion editorial, the Danish director’s latest film is, to say the least, astonishing, and promises to spark fierce controversy.
Winding Refn has created some kind of mesmerising beauty-horror film, with a perversity so elegant it’s hard to resist. Blatantly inspired by fashion photography from beginning to end, The Neon Demon easily disorientates. A shower of obsessive visual research, the film is bathed in explosions of wild (neon) colours and achingly bright lamps. Sequences of disco-like blinking lights and a pervasive electronic music bring the film to borderline experimental sci-fi in the style of Liquid Sky, an arthouse prototype of the unearthly place where fashion meets sex and murder.
Highly symbolic, the film has an ephemeral script brimming with unsettling events that don’t find (and need not find) an explanation in the story. Elle Fanning is an inexperienced, aspiring model just landed in the fashion scene of Los Angeles. Her stunning beauty is immediately recognised and she quickly climbs the ladder, attracting the envy of other models. Worshipped and targeted, she realises her own status and what others think of her.
With unnerving performances by Elle Fanning, Keanu Reeves and Jena Malone, the plot is voluntarily loose and doesn’t dare steal the spotlight from the composition and hallucinatory sequences of the film. A moral theme peeks between the lines and shapes – the true and pure beauty the fashion world runs after but has forever lost – but the concept feels secondary, and is absorbed within the meandering of extremely contrived shots. Elle Fanning’s character appears to symbolise the corruption of innocent beauty, but to stop at this and not consider the surreal elements of The Neon Demon would be to lessen the sense of his film, which has above all to do with the sense of vision.
Imitating the world of fashion, where deathly and macabre are often a justification for creativity, Nicolas Winding Refn’s film is rather disturbing but, like many twisted things, has a huge power of attraction. Luring and captivating, The Neon Demon is, indeed, some kind of fascinating demon to which the mind and the eye must give in.
The Neon Demon is released nationwide on 8th July 2016.
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Watch a clip from The Neon Demon here: