Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘The Neon Demon’ is Gorgeous and Hollow

GameStop, Inc.

the-neon-demon-001

Did you know that there are a bunch of pretty, hollow people populating Los Angeles seeking fame and fortune? If only someone would make a movie about the talentless backstabbers that are determined to climb to the top through nothing more than their sheer physical beauty. After all, nobody has ever tried to skewer life in Los Angeles on the big screen before. Luckily (depending on your perspective), Nicolas Winding Refn is ready to take aim at the life of glitz and glamour in the City of Angels with The Neon Demon. The latest film from the provocateur Refn, The Neon Demon is an aggressively unpleasant film that relishes in the superficiality it’s attempting to skew. Typically, a film this repulsive would earn a flat-out negative review, except you have to take into consideration that the unpleasantness of The Neon Demon is the very intent of author.

The threadbare story revolves around Jesse (Elle Fanning), a young model who has just moved to Los Angeles seeking a career in modeling. When we first see Jesse, she is modeling for Dean (Karl Glusman), an aspiring photographer who found the young model online. Shortly after the session, Jesse makes acquaintances with Ruby (Jena Malone), a makeup artist who takes the young girl to ritzy party where Jesse draws the ire of competing models Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee). Jesse is living in a motel in Pasadena run by an unscrupulous manager (Keanu Reeves) where she has to contend with a wide variety of issues. It doesn’t take long for Jesse to obtain representation from Jan (Christina Hendricks), a powerful modeling agent, and quickly becomes the new it girl. But rising to the top puts a target on the young girl’s back, and she must either adopt the cruel sensibilities to survive or be eaten alive by the competition.

At first, The Neon Demon has a wry, sardonic sense of humor with the callousness of the self-absorbed, beautiful people that reside in its Los Angeles. Refn takes his time with scenes and set ups, and for the first hour or so it mostly works as a scathing screed against superficiality. The casual cruelty of the beautiful people takes on a darkly comedic tone as does their simple moments of discussing the virtues of plastic surgery. Yet it doesn’t take long for Refn to find himself and the film as a whole falling into that very same pit of superficiality with nothing more to say than “These people are hollow and cruel.”

Heavily stylized scenes of a dolled up Fanning in a colorless void with a glimmer of neon color amidst the darkness symbolized the descent of Jesse’s innocence into the world of superficiality, yet Refn only uses this moment as a catalyst for moments of depraved sex and violence, sometimes combining the two into scenes of crude sexual violence. That’s when the film completely lost me, as it seems that any and all attempts of satire and commentary that were so present in the beginning have been erased in favor of an ugly provocation of the audience without anything else behind it. The stylized costumes, the soft lighting exuding a dream-like haze over the images, the lens flare that is carefully placed over Fanning’s face all seem to work in union for a thematic message that is nothing more than preaching “Beauty is so ugly,” like a halfwit poet lacking in self-awareness about just how trite and casual his observations really are.

I would say that if you didn’t care for Nicolas Winding Refn’s last film, the nihilistic revenge tale overflowing with oedipal themes Only God Forgives, you’re likely going to have similar reaction towards The Neon Demon. Both films seem to relish in their unpleasant aspects while featuring some rather nice cinematography and the pulsating synthesized score of Cliff Martinez. But I can’t help but escape the notion that Refn is like a really bad stand-up comedian peddling in off-color jokes that don’t land. These two movies feel like they’re made by someone who feels that he’s the smartest guy in the room, like the critical reception of Only God Forgives pushed him even further into a need for ugly provocation.

Part of me wishes I could enjoy the films of Nicolas Winding Refn more, but his commitment to pretentious ugliness leaves me thoroughly cold. With each successive film I find tidbits of moments that border on striking visual poetry that are always undermined by the filmmaker’s oppressive heavy-handedness. Perhaps for those that live outside of the greater Los Angeles area will find something profound about Refn’s observations about the hollow beauty contained in many of its residents, but living here reminds me how unimaginative such an observation is. It’d be like making a two-hour movie about how the sky is blue. Just because the intent of The Neon Demon is to be aggressively unpleasant doesn’t mean I have to like, and it certainly doesn’t mean that Nicolas Winding Refn has anything profound or interesting to say. If the characters of The Neon Demon are vacuous vampires sucking of the physical beauty of the innocent, the filmmaker behind The Neon Demon is a vampire in his own right, one sucking off of trite observation and his own self-importance.

The Neon Demon
  • Overall Score
2.5

Summary

Aggressively unpleasant, The Neon Demon is Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest cinematic provocation, one that takes aim the vacuous world of modeling in Los Angeles employing a similarly vacuous style.

Anytime Costumes

Leave a Reply

FanboyNation
Animation/Anime Interviews Animation/Anime News Animation/Anime Reviews Film/TV Interviews Film/TV News Film/TV Review
‘Justice League: Crisis on Infinite Earths – Part Three’ – Leaves us Wanting More! – Spoiler Free Review

‘Justice League: Crisis on Infinite Earths – Part Three‘ is a...

‘Lumina’ is a Incredible First for Debuting Director, Gino McKoy – Review

‘Lumina‘ is an incredible concept and an exceptional first run for...

Aaron Augenblick Returns for Season 2 of ‘City Island’ on PBS KIDS – Interview

Acclaimed Animator, Aaron Augenblick Returns with a Second Season of ‘City...

Event News Event Reviews
The ‘California Dreams’ Band Reunite on The Sunset Strip For a Night of 90s Nostalgia – Concert Review

Don’t Wake Me Up if I’m Dreaming, The ‘California Dreams‘ Band...

Jay Anthony Franke Talks California Dreams Reunion Concert in LA – Interview

Jay Anthony Franke Talks About The ‘California Dreams‘ Reunion Concert in...

‘An Inspector Calls’ Challenges the Morals of the Bourgeois – Review

‘An Inspector Calls‘ Challenges the Morals and Ethics of the Bourgeois...

Automotives Football MMA, Kick Boxing & Boxing Professional Wrestling
Derek Gumin Talks Planet 13 and UFC 303 Meet and Greets – Interview

Director of Wholesale Accounts at Planet 13, Derek Gumin spoke about...

Oscar De La Hoya Partners with El Rey for ‘Friday Night Fights’ – Interview

The Golden Boy himself chatted with us about Golden Boy Promotions...

Olympic Runner Colleen Quigley ‘On The Road to Paris’

Team USA Olympic Runner, Colleen Quigley is On The Road to...

Adult Continuity Comics on the Can Cultural Junk Drawer Future Comic Rock Stars Is That Racist? Revisiting the Reviled THAT'S NOT ROTTEN! The B-Reel The Cantina Scene This Week in Crowdfunding What the HELL Did I just...?
Fantoy Comics Presents: Harry Potter and the Pahrump Apocalypse – Blood on the Cactus, Endgame

Mhuhahahahahahahah!

Fantoy Comics Presents: A 4th of July Message!

Seriously, America, THIS crap?!?!?

Fantoy Comics Presents – Harry Potter and the Pahrump Apocalypse: Blood on the cactus pt 4 (?)

There are some weird guys here that want invest in a...

Music Interviews Music News Music Reviews
Joe Kwaczala Talks About His new Comedy Album ‘Funny Songs & Sketches’ – Interview

Joe Kwaczala Talks About His new Comedy Album ‘Funny Songs &...

Songwriter and Poet, Tamara Mechael Talks About Her Career in the Arts

First Generation Assyrian-Chaldean, Songwriter and Poet, Tamara Mechael Talks About Her...

Louden Swain Headlining Los Angeles Show at The Echo

Press Release – Louden Swain are headlining Los Angeles show at...

Enabled Gaming Gaming News Gaming Reviews
Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League
Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League Gameplay Trailer

The first Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League gameplay trailer was revealed during...

Wonder Woman Game
Wonder Woman Game Announced By DC and WB Games

Wonder Woman game will feature the iconic hero in a 3rd...

MultiVersus
MultiVersus brings Batman, Arya Stark, Bugs Bunny, and More

MultiVersus is bringing Shaggy, Harley Quinn, Jake, Batman, Arya Stark, Bugs Bunny,...

Comic Creator Interviews Comic/Graphic Novel News Comic/Graphic Novel Reviews Manga News Manga Reviews Novel/Novella Author Interviews Novel/Novella News Novel/Novella Reviews
Billy Eddy Talks His new Book ‘Our New World of Adult Bullies’ – Interview

Lawyer, Mediator and Personality Expert Bill Eddy Provides a Six-Step Strategy...

Gary Morgenstein Talks ‘A Dugout to Peace’ the Final Installment of his Trilogy

Gary Morgenstein Talks About ‘A Dugout to Peace‘ the final installment...

Chris Clews Is ‘Raised on the 80s’ and Shares Those Life Lessons

Chris Clews was ‘Raised on the 80s‘ and Shares Those Life...

Apparel/Personal Maintenance News Apparel/Personal Maintenance Reviews Entertainment Product News Entertainment Product Reviews Food/Beverage Reviews Hardware News Hardware Reviews Mystery Box News Mystery Box Reviews
Harry Potter: Magic Caster Wand Demo

The new ‘Harry Potter: Magic Caster Wand‘ is ready to ship...

Chef Jen Peters and Matthew Clayton Bring us the ‘Good Flour’

Canadian Super Chef Jen Peters and Matthew Clayton Bring us the...

Pop Insider 2021 Holiday Gift Guide
Pop Insider 2021 Holiday Gift Guide

The Pop Insider 2021 Holiday Gift Guide is now available to help...

Gaming Uncensored Toon-In-Talk
Episode 38: Hamid Rahmanian

Join Whitney Grace as she speaks with artist Hamid Rahmanian, who...

No Preview
Toon-In Talk Episode 37: Niki Smith

Whitney Grace interviews graphic novel writer and artist Niki Smith about...

Toon-In Talk Episode 36: Rob Paulsen

Rob Paulsen takes some time from his busy voice acting schedule...