Director: Nicholas Winding Refn
Cast: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Keanu Reeves
I was intrigued by the trailer for The Neon Demon when I caught it in theaters. Filled with rich colors, leading sound bytes, and striking images, the trailer suggested a tense film filled with quiet horror. So I was thrilled when I saw that it was available on Amazon Prime.
Neon Demon follows Jesse (played by the wide-eyed Elle Fanning), an underage beauty who has come to LA to pursue a career in modeling. Although she may have what it takes to be a star, she discovers that the fashion world is more vicious and unforgiving than she first expected. As Jesse struggles to the top she must find her inner monster to destroy the competition.
This film definitely falls in the “love it or hate it” category. It is methodical, dark, and forces the viewer to come to their own conclusions. And yet, if you’re willing to go where The Neon Demon is taking you, it’s 100% worth the ride.
Constant competition and scrambling to get on top paired with a compassionless industry built on commodification make the fashion world excellent fodder for horror. To its credit, the film deliberately avoids the mundane horror cliches that first jump to mind, instead stretching for a unique ending you actually won’t see coming.
A subconscious tension flows through the movie thanks to the director’s and editor’s strategic use of legato tempos and lengthy sections of silence. There is so little happening in each sequence that every glance between characters, every step Jesse and her fellow models make becomes full of dangerous meaning.
The theme of beauty is reflected in every aspect of the storytelling, but nowhere is this concept more perfectly realized than in Natasha Braier’s cinematography. Every frame could be plucked from the screen and placed in between the covers of a very gruesome version of Vogue. Color takes on a reactionary quality so closely linked to the character’s emotions that many scenes could have played out without dialogue and not lost their meaning.
From the very first image of a model covered in blood that has spilled from her cut throat (see what I did there), I was sold. This movie is a must-see for high-concept horror fans.
Be ready for the long haul as this film won’t deliver on the gory goods for a while, but when you sit down to watch a film like Neon Demon your goal shouldn’t be a body count (did it again), you’re there to lean into the mystery and wait. And my god, that wait is worth it.