Nicolas Winding Refn’s macabre fashion fairytale: The Neon Demon
The starlet of “The Neon Demon” is Jesse (Elle Fanning), a patsy, puerile knockout who just turned sixteen. Fresh off the boat from Georgia (USA), she lands in LA with no companions, no connections, and, by her own admission, no solid talents. “I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t write,” she says meekly. On the other hand, she’s gorgeous: “I can make money off my looks.” That’s a harsh, hardcore line, but, then, good looks and hardcore qualities make this film the visceral spectacle that it is.
Jesse is first seen curled up on a sofa, as blood spews profusely from a laceration on her throat; only afterward, as she mops herself clean with the help of a makeup artist named Ruby (Jena Malone), do we realize that the bloodbath was cosmetic, engineered for an edgy fashion spread. That optical pun suggests an ominous perplexity in the face of sartorial savagery: Who can tell the difference between fiction and fact? Who cares about ultra violence and carnal rage as long as it’s aesthetically cool?
The big brains behind the film is genius Nicolas Winding Refn—or, as he is also referred to in the opening credits, NWR, which hints at a hip-hop act or a publicly funded radio station. His penchant for the agony of style, amply evident in his other eye-openers — “Drive” (2011) and “Only God Forgives” (2013) — is immutable, and the prettiest parts of “The Neon Demon,” are bathed in a plum-hued, magenta and violet veneers, reminiscent of a Gucci fragrance ad that he shot back in 2012. “Beauty isn’t everything,” says one character in his newest flick. “It’s the only thing.”
Jesse auditions with a bigwig modelling scout (Christina Hendricks), who tells her to ratchet up her age to nineteen. Soon enough, Jesse is vamping nude for a hyper-macho, Machiavellian photographer, who drapes her in gold body paint. Like most things in the film (including a mountain lion that infiltrates Jesse’s no-tell motel room managed by weirdo Hank/Keanu Reeves), this is meant as an ominous harbinger of things to come, even though she’s just trying to get her feet in the door of the hardcore and hectoring LA model scene. “I’m not as naive as I look,” she says, and Fanning injects a flicker of canniness into Jesse’s angelic air.
For those of us who have always assumed that the modelling game is a healthy, polished profession, complete with ethical ingenues, role models and mentors, “The Neon Demon” comes as a vivid kick in the teeth. Fashion and modelling, we learn, is predicated on the predatorial whims of the industry’s big shots and on the torturous transformations of the body, and you know those vampiric vixens and haters who just want destroy you and wreck your rep? Well, the industry thrives on such personalities. No double entendre required. By the film’s end, Refn has masterfully played with the seven deadly sins and added a few more; his affection for cannibalism, necrophilia, lesbianism, blood lust and other sadistic tics and itches are all depicted in ritzy taste and gratuitous gore.
The visuals, in our humble opinion at VIVISXN, are perfect and the soundtrack (by Cliff Martinez) is killer. Mixing abstract, ambient sounds with pulsing, electronic drums, bangin’ sub-bass and razor-sharp guitars riffs, “The Neon Demon” soundtrack will blow your mind. Oh, and Abbey Lee is a beautiful, bloody poem with long legs and lascivious looks that will make you apoplectic.
“Who wants sour milk when you can get fresh meat?!” ✮✮✮✮✮ Five stars for this one!