Beauty is vicious
Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn brings his latest film The Neon Demon to the silver screen, his first since Only God Forgives in 2013, and his latest to explore film not just as a narrative vehicle but as an art form.
The film follows Jesse (Elle Fanning), a young innocent girl who has recently moved to Los Angeles to build herself a modelling career. After befriending makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone) from the set of her first shoot, she is introduced to two of Ruby’s friends, models Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee). Despite being new to the modelling scene Jesse quickly begins to turn heads, signing with a popular modelling agency and being the focus of photo shoots with prominent photographers. As Jesse’s ascension through the world of modelling accelerates, so does the jealousy and scorn from fellow models who are desperate to experience the same success as her.
So how is it? Well once again Nicolas Winding Refn excels in delivering a masterfully shot piece of work that is as beautiful as it is cold, where all the facets of making a film come together exquisitely. The pulsing soundtrack from Cliff Martinez broods in the background as Jesse traverses the land where “Beauty isn’t everything, it’s the one thing”. As with previous films from NWR, The Neon Demon is heavy on imagery and light on dialogue, giving the viewer the time to explore the visuals without being talked at about exposition and what is happening in the film. It’s a method that will not suit all, especially those who prefer a structured narrative to follow, but it’s quintessential NWR.
Speaking of visuals, the bold lucid colours make the aesthetic of the film pop more than any CGI laden blockbuster can, and when combined with some perfectly orchestrated framing nearly every scene becomes a joy to look at. I would like to emphasis the ‘nearly’ in that sentence though, because if you’ve seen any of NWR’s previous films you’ll know they tend to come with some disturbing scenes. Whether it’s Ryan Gosling head stomping during Drive, the visceral descent into madness in Valhalla Rising, or take your pick from Only God Forgives, there are usually some tough scenes to experience. The Neon Demon is no different, with a climax that is fascinatingly depraved.
Now all the pretty colours and scenes would be for nought if we didn’t get performances from the cast, and the film scores where it matters in this arena. Elle Fanning and Jena Malone both give different but equally mesmerising performances, Fanning demonstrates superb subtlety in her expressions and emotions whilst Malone commits to her role as if it were her last. The duo are so good they actually show up their supporting cast a little bit.
Like any piece of art, the enjoyment from The Neon Demon is subjective to ones tastes. It might take a short while to get some momentum going, but it’s an fascinating journey to watch. The symbiotic relationship between the music from Cliff Martinez and the direction of NWR continues to grow, throw in some splendid cinematography from Natasha Braier and you’ve got a film that sounds fantastic, looks beautiful, and grabs a hold of your gaze and doesn’t let go.
Tell us what you thought of The Neon Demon, and where do you think it ranks alongside Nicolas Winding Refn’s other films?