The Neon Demon is one of those horror films that isn’t quite horror. It’s a visceral experience, to be sure, and one that I wasn’t completely expecting. But in most ways, its horrors rest more with its depictions of beauty and ambition, and what those that crave both are willing to do for it.
Co-written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, The Neon Demon is the story of a young model named Jesse (Elle Fanning), freshly arrived in Los Angeles and looking to make money off of her beauty. Jesse is befriended by a make-up artist (Jena Malone) and soon finds herself represented by a big time agent (a criminally underused Christina Hendricks). The gigs come quick, as does the competition between rival models Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee).
The Neon Demon runs nearly two hours long and you definitely feel it at times. Refn goes for slow-moving tracking shots and close-ups of his young, beautiful star, oftentimes overstaying his welcome. There’s not a lot of complexity to the film, either; the story is somewhat underwritten and you wind up often wishing that something, anything, would just happen.
However, for its faults, and there are certainly a few, the movie also features strong performances from everyone involved. Fanning makes a compelling lead as we watch her character drift through there grime and glitz of the world she’s entered. Meanwhile, the always reliable Malone is nearly as interesting. She’s mastered the wan smile and the eyes that hint at mischief.
This being a Nicolas Winding Refn film, of course the look of The Neon Demon is absolutely gorgeous. Some have compared Refn’s work to that of David Lynch, and with this Los Angeles skyline looming large, it’s easy to see why. The film’s score is also an electronic masterpiece from composer Cliff Martinez. Rather than featuring any real standout moments or motifs, Martinez creates a mood for every scene that consistently works.
I went in with no knowledge of the story of The Neon Demon, and I haven’t given you any spoilers here that could potentially ruin things for you. I will say that there are some cringe-inducing moments to be sure, ones that allow for the movie to fall into that horror category. The moments that drag are worth waiting through, as the last 20 minutes are unpredictable, jarring, and entertaining for fans of the genre.