Whether or not you like Nicholas Winding Refn, there’s no doubt that he makes art that gets people talking. Surely, his movies are hit or miss, but they are art that spawn emotions that not many directors can incite. Much like Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive,” Winding Refn’s newest masterpiece is a statement about the ills of fame and how Los Angeles can consume innocence and naiveté. Winding Refn makes a statement about how the modeling industry is literally cut throat, while seemingly drawing inspirations from films like “Suspiria.” The women here are assuredly predators intent on committing a devious scheme that revolves around the idea of vanity and self preservation.
Elle Fanning is stunning in the role of sixteen year old Jesse, a young wunderkind of a model who strikes it big after a photo shoot with her amateur photographer boyfriend. Convinced she can be a model, she experiences something of a surge in success when she begins infiltrating corners of the modeling world that typically take her colleagues years to accomplish. This includes a private photo shoot with a selective photographer, and acing an audition with ease that has her more experienced contemporaries stressing. While Winding Refn makes it clear what the sinister elements of the story are, he also composes a world where Jesse is at danger at all times, and is always at risk of being destroyed or corrupted. She’s literally one of the most pure and beautiful human beings to enter in to this world, and she immediately gets the attention of make up artist Ruby, as played by Jena Malone.
Fanning’s performance is enormous as the seemingly supernatural beauty Jessie, a runaway from her home town who arrives in LA to pursue modeling. Achieving an extraordinary appeal that even drives a casting agent to the brink of tears, Jessie is the inadvertent monster of her film. She’s a young woman who can shockingly stain everyone she comes in contact with and play on the insecurities of the trio of models she makes friends with in the film. Whether she realizes it, she’s a force of nature that’s almost supernatural, and once she garners the friendship of fellow models Gigi and Sarah, she begins to drown in a world that’s both beautiful and horrifying. Refn paints Los Angeles as a kaleidoscopic world of big dreams and lost dreams, big roads, and dead ends, and conceives every character as a crucial element of Jesse’s realization of her own persona.
There are a slew of wonderfully filmed and brilliant photographed montages and sequences that show us this devolving in to pure darkness, rather than guiding us beat by beat. What we see is left up to interpretation, and Jesse is a girl who ultimately fall victim to the idea and expectations of beauty, and how much the world values it. Winding Refn derives outstanding performances from his cast including Keanu Reeves, Bella Heathcoate, and Abbey Lee, respectively. While yes, “The Neon Demon’s” ultimate resolution and total concept is very on the nose, it also presents a myriad subtext, undertones, and ideas about the search for eternal youth that are grotesque, beautiful, and incredibly compelling.
The Blu-Ray features an audio commentary with Director Nicholas Winding Refn and star Elle Fanning, that is worth a listen for even folks that hated the movie. “Behind the Soundtrack of Neon Demon” is a brief look at the film’s elaborate soundtrack that combined disco, and punk rock. Finally, there’s “About Neon Demon” which is basically a glorified trailer with small interviews from the cast.