"Beauty isn't everything. It's the only thing."
Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn revisits the glamorous but lurid setting of contemporary Los Angeles again in the female-centric The Neon Demon. The film revolves around the seedy world of young fashion models and continues the provocateur's often stunning but divisive point-of-view narrative surrounding American pop culture and imagery.
The film is a moody indulgence into high fashion and style while remaining deeply centred in dark fantasy. It's a hauntingly gorgeous yet emotionally hollow film full of arresting and meticulous female imagery. There's a purposeful emptiness in the film's structure that echoes the (lack of) substance it explores.
Ingénue Elle Fanning stars as Jesse, a fresh-faced, naïve wannabe model, trying to navigate the predatory environment of Hollywood fashion. Her sixteen-year-old character is a beautiful cipher used to explore Refn's trashy vision of feminism with all his usual stylistic flourishes alongside cinematographer Natasha Braier. Fanning feels like the perfect vessel for this particular brand of narcissism.
Starring largely a young female cast reflecting Refn's pop aesthetic and cinematic worldview, The Neon Demon bursts with talent giving subdued performances before bursting into bizarre sequences of fantastical detours. Nowhere is this more evident with Jena Malone as Ruby, a friendly but mysterious makeup artist, who quickly befriends Jesse while becoming enamoured with her purity and beauty much like everyone else around her. Keanu Reeves, clearly having fun, shows up in a small but broad role as a seedy motel owner who harasses Jesse for little reason. Standouts Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee are deliciously diabolical as Gigi and Sarah, catty model rivals, who resent Jesse's quick success. Lee, in particular, is dynamite in her role relishing her character's naked ambition.
Refn’s latest is a glossy horror fantasy set in another twisted world exploring flawed beauty. He predictably uses sex and violence to get across his blunt themes and frames The Neon Demon as a twisted fairytale blending feminist ideals with the male gaze. It's a truly hypnotic yet unforgiving horror film about fetishized youth.
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