The Nicolas Winding Refn film for people who don’t like Nicolas Winding Refn, in The Neon Demon his, particular way of doing things, just works.
A Director conversely lambasted and celebrated for heralding a counter-intuitively tempestuous vacuity in each of his visually-laden, visceral rampages into the art-house psyche finds here the perfect medium for his evocative stylings – the fashion industry.
Ingenuous Jesse (Elle Fanning) arrives in Los Angeles with nothing to her name but a couple of head-shots and a pretty face. Picked up immediately by a modelling agent who extolls her virtues (Christina Hendricks, joined by Keanu Reeves in one of two thankless cameos), Jesse incurs the dual fascination and dread of her fellow, more-established colleagues (Jenna Malone, Bella Heathcote and Australia’s Abbey Lee).
Slowly beginning a descent into the dregs of the fashion world and Winding Refn’s highly-stylized imagery, whereas the Director’s affronting sensibilities and overdrawn expressions have appeared incongruous in slightly more accustomary settings (ala Drive, Only God Forgives), his venture into the pressure-heavy world of looking good for the camera and donning of outlandish outfits suits his distinctive predilections just fine.
An elongated traipse by Jesse down the runway or steady pause on her executing a shoot exhibits the Director’s skills at their most bewitching, as expected exaggerated to the nth degree but here sublimely thrilling and carried in no small part by its beguiling lead who you will have no doubt believing could easily fall prey to a world where “beauty isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
And from there, things get weird. Really weird.
As if this film wasn’t discombobulating enough, the third act’s shocking mix of violence and the Director’s own gratuitous, withering indictment on narcissism results in one of his highly discomforting, signature endings. Taking his especial musings to wholly disturbing places, if you’ve seen a Winding Refn film before what happens here may very well still shock you.
A leap in even the film’s devastating logic, the final sequences are still fairly the inductive outcome of its twisted machinations and thereafter play out to profound effect. An endeavour uniquely suited to Winding Refn’s manner, the superficiality evident in so much of The Neon Demon’s motifs and the glaring long-holds on the designers’ most ignominious muses together paint a riveting picture of vacuous subjects that is itself anything but vacuous.
Obsessed with superficiality, both in the Director’s chosen form and subject matter, and through introspection conversely managing to elucidate vividly on its dire consequences, The Neon Demon eviscerates new depths in that which is only “skin deep.”
The Neon Demon is screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival on Saturday 30 July and Thursday 4 July – for tickets head to the Festival website