The Neon Demon

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Director Nicolas Winding Refn continues to ensure us that he knows what he’s doing with neon lights.

Jesse (Elle Fanning) is a 16 year old girl who moves to Los Angeles in search of becoming a model. She performs a shoot with a guy she recently meets named Dean (Karl Glusman), whose photos help her at a casting agency where she is told that she’ll be the next big star. She soon meets makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone) and two other ladies in the modeling industry. However the innocence of Jesse is tested as she learns the harsh realities that lie within the business, which hark back to the old saying “they’ll eat you alive”

The Neon Demon is able to take the cliché of a girl from a small town trying to make it in Los Angles, but show it from a fresh perspective. Though it may not necessarily be a new take on this story; Refn’s use of silence to create unease plays a big role in how Jesse is slowly being influenced by these different players in the industry. Jesse claims to have a strong personality but throughout the movie she is repeatedly succumbing to the demands of others. This is a stark contrast from the Jesse we see towards the end of the movie, which is great because we can grow with the character. I feel as if though in this golden age of television we can identify more with those characters than we can with the characters in films, perhaps the writing isn’t as sharp, which I believe may be the case, or simply times are changing. Anyways, it felt refreshing being able to grow with a character in such a short film, and in Refn fashion; he showed Jesse’s big change in a stunning abstract scene which shows her loss of innocence.


I hope I’m not alone on this but the whole movie I kept forgetting that this was Elle Fanning, and not Chloë Grace Moretz. I’m not sure if they are similar at acting but their looks were similar, but credit to Ellie Fanning. She completely sold me on her character, not for a moment did I doubt she was playing a 16 year old disguised as a 19 year old in a big city. I really enjoyed Jena Malone’s role as Ruby, she always felt like she was up to no good, but I couldn’t quite read her intentions. Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee as Gigi & Sarah, were the friends of Ruby. They played a big role in this movie by introducing the harsh realities that these models face in the industry, the jealousy that rages between them all, and even the contrast between natural and surgical beauty. I can’t remember which of the two it was but when she went to the casting call but the director of the upcoming show paid her no mind, that resonated heavily especially through her performance. Shout out to Keanu Reeves continuing his role of John Wick. The man was mad in this film, but he played it so well, I can’t begin to explain it, but I was laughing out loud during all the moments that featured him. To my surprise, Christina Hendricks only had one scene in this movie, which was disappointing.

If Nicolas Winding Refn continues to shoot movies with a ton neon lights, I don’t think anyone can tell the man otherwise. The Neon Demon much like Only God Forgives employs beautiful imagery accompanied by the mesmerizing score by Cliff Martinez. However The Neon Demon is much more polished considering the content of the modeling industry. There was an immense amount of striking shots too, from the photo shoot with the gold glitter which had the “empty white space in another dimension” look, the opening photo shoot, the close up shots of the models against the ocean, and the beautiful shot when the girls were driving up the coast of California. I could go on all day about Natasha Braier’s beautifully composed cinematography.

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My biggest complain about The Neon Demon though is being able to easily predict where Jesse would end up. Refn didn’t attempt to make us ponder on where the modeling career would take her, in defense of that though, I don’t think anybody predicted how it was all come together in the end though. That was surely a hard left turn into Blade territory, but I enjoyed every moment of it even though it was strange.

Overall, I dug The Neon Demon a whole lot. It felt like a step back in the right direction for Nicolas Winding Refn and I believe he has shown everyone once again that he deserves the title “visionary director”. The film presents a familiar concept, but brings the viewer down an abstract path through beautiful cinematography, mesmerizing score, solid acting, two Stanley Kubrick references which all coming together to create an aesthetically pleasing film.

My Rating: Three Mountain Lions out of Five

Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn
IMDb 7/10 – Rotten Tomatoes 46%
WON Cannes Best Composer
Nominated Palme d’Or


“She’s a diamond among a sea of glass”