Director: Nicholas Winding Refn
Cast: Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Christina Hendricks, Desmond Harrington, Alessandro Nivola, Keanu Reeves
Runtime: 1 hr 57 mins
Rating: M18 (Nudity and Violence)
Released By: Shaw
Official Website: http://theneondemon.com
Opening Day: 20 October 2016
Synopsis: When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will use any means necessary to get what she has in The Neon Demon, the new horror thriller from Nicolas Winding Refn.
When Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn directed Drive (2011), it made Ryan Gosling a bona fide superstar – the American neo noir crime drama was dripping with so much coolness, you wouldn’t need an air conditioner. Oh, the Best Director Award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival was a bonus too.
Two years later came Only God Forgives, a crime thriller set in Bangkok. Gosling returns with his coolness, together with Kristen Scott Thomas. Although it wasn’t as big a hit as Drive (it was booed by many of the audience of journalists and critics while also receiving a standing ovation), the film went down well with critics, the film managed to clock in a $10.3 million box office.
Refn continues his streak of controversial films with this latest work about an aspiring model whose beauty and youth bring about ridiculously amounts of fascination and jealousy within the fashion industry. Sounds like a plot from Mean Girls (2004)? Trust us, this is not bitchy fun. Brace yourself as there is sex (expected), gore (for the bloody fun), cannibalism (horrors!) and lesbian necrophilia (what?) in this 117 minute film.
A good looking 16 year old Jesse (Elle Fanning – my, how she has grown into quite a beauty) moves from small town Georgia to Los Angeles. She meets makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone), and fellow models Sarah (Abbey Lee) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote) – and before she knows it, the three women are showering attention on her attractiveness, displaying curiosity over her sexual behaviours and things get really uncomfortable.
This is definitely a love it or hate it kind of viewing experience. You may be intrigued and awed by Refn’s bold use of theatrics and colours, but you may also be offended by what some conveniently refer to as self indulgence. At first, scenes of bondage, sex and nudity may shock you. After a while, you may become desensitised and wonder where this is going.
Fanning gives it her all to play a character who is originally fascinated by the industry, before involving herself by entering dangerous territories. Malone, Lee and Heathcote and aptly alluring as her mates turned enemies, while supporting characters played by Christina Hendricks (channeling her Joan Holloway vibes from TV’s Mad Men well into this role of an overbearing owner of a modeling agency) and Keanu Reeves (giving another creepily understated performance after Knock Knock) grab your attention every time they appear on screen.
This is a horror movie disguised in bright neon colours. The concept is respectable (the shallowness and ugliness behind the glitz and glamour of the fashion industry), but the execution remains questionable. Is this a piece of art, or is it simply a case of style over substance? You have to admit that the characters are not very well developed (we may be biased, but the brooding coolness Gosling displayed in Drive and Only God Forgives worked much better for his character), and you are mostly distracted by the visuals most of the time with this movie. This film is not one that is entertaining, but one that shrouds with an atmosphere of dread. Whether you should watch it or not? You decide.
(The ugliness of the fashion industry is aptly contrasted by the film’s glamourous visuals, but this divisive piece of work definitely isn’t Nicolas Winding Refn’s best)
Review by John Li