The Neon Demon
dir Nicolas Winding Refn
scr Nicolas Winding Refn, Mary Laws, Polly Stenham
prd Nicolas Winding Refn, Lene Borglum, Sidonie Dumas, Vincent Maraval
with Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Karl Glusman, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Desmond Harrington, Alessandro Nivola, Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks, Charles Baker, Jamie Clayton, Stacey Danger
release US 24.Jun.16, UK 8.Jul.16
16/US Gaumont 1h58
The Neon Demon
You look marvelous: Malone and Fanning

nivola reeves hendricks
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Neon Demon Another ambitious, self-consciously stylish film from Nicholas Winding Refn, this is an increasingly horrific look at the obsession with youth. Set in the fashion scene, the film looks spectacular and features cleverly layered performances that are both heightened and darkly moving. But as the plot goes deliberately off the rails, everything seems to get strangely obvious.

At 16, Jesse (Fanning) has gone to Hollywood to become a star, and her innocent beauty quickly catches the attention of a modelling agent (Hendricks), a top photographer (Harrington) and a fashion designer (Nivola). As she befriends make-up artist Ruby (Malone), she also gets to know two it-girl models, Gigi and Sarah (Heathcote and Lee), who never try to hide their jealousy over Jesse's untouched radiance. But as she becomes a rising-star model, Jesse sees her life shifting from bright promise to foreboding danger.

Winding Refn sets this up as a cautionary tale about the carnivorous nature of show business, an on-the-nose idea that gurgles up to overtake the movie. While the first half of the film is a riveting depiction of the ravenous attitude of the fashion industry to fresh-faced naivete, Winding Refn seems uninterested in properly exploring the issue through Jesse's eyes. Instead, she's a passive and rather clueless cypher who apparently becomes hypnotised by triangular Lynchian visions.

From this point, the movie shifts into horror, as Jesse's attitude grows more jaded. Fanning navigates this shift very nicely, with the help of make-up and hair styling, clothing and camerawork. But the characters around her never seem to change, circling like sharks around her. Glusman is engaging as just about the only genuinely nice person on-screen. Heathcote and Lee are cleverly starved and desperate. And Malone has the toughest role as a character revealed in a series of disturbing set-pieces.

Where the movie wobbles is in the final act, as Winding Refn over-eggs the story with deliberately shocking images, grotesque plot turns and an oddly timid approach to both characters and story. Some of this is effective at creating an atmosphere of gothic dread amid the lurid, pulsing colours. But the final scenes feel both preachy and predictable, which only makes it clear how hard Winding Refn is straining to be controversial. Still, it's great to see a filmmaker doing something bold and outrageous, and actors willing to explore the dark side of their indistry.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, nudity 8.Jul.16

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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall