The Neon Demon| Director: Nicolas Winding Refn| Rating: 4/11|
Director Nicolas Winding Refn’s films have always been a bit over the top, to say the least. Drive and Only God Forgives are enticing looks at humanity (or rather, what happens when morals are tossed to the wind), as well as visually appealing feasts for the eye. Unfortunately The Neon Demon (his horror film set in the modeling world of Los Angeles) is not on the same par as Drive and Only God Forgives, and is – instead – a rather disgusting film that focuses a bit too much on the gross out.
The film follows Jessie (Elle Fanning), a 16-year-old ingenue who moves to Los Angeles to launch a modeling career. According to Jessie’s agent (Christina Hendricks, whose role in the film is far too short), she has the makings of a “star.” It’s never fully explained why Jessie has the makings of a star, but it’s a plot hole that Refn should have addressed beyond her “innocent beauty.” Once in the throes of the vicious world of modeling, Jessie has to deal with a brilliant photographer who comes across as an ax-wielding maniac, her seedy motel manager (played with the perfect amount of sleaze by Keanu Reeves), and two aging models (Bella Heathcoate and Abbey Lee) who are determined to steal a bit of Jessie’s beauty. None of these characters are fully fleshed out, so they feel more like one-note villains from an 80s slasher flick than truly frightening individuals.
While there are a few beautiful moments in the film, there are far too many confusing ones. While in a nightclub, a neon triangle flashes for a good five minutes, and while it’s pretty to look at, it serves no greater purpose to the film. In a desire to shock his audience, Refn forgot to create characters that the audience would care about. A truly frightening horror film is so disturbing because one comes to care about these characters, but in The Neon Demon it’s difficult to care when every scene is designed to make one gag.
This is clearly a film by the director of Drive and Only God Forgives, but a film that is designed to appall rather than question, which is one of Refn’s greater strengths.