A young woman comes to LA with the hope of becoming a model.
Nicolas Winding Refn is back, and he might just be having a giggle at your expense in The Neon Demon.
It’s the story of as aspiring model (Elle Fanning) who dives deep into the fashion world of L.A. in the hope of finding game. That’s a pretty familiar set up, even if the character is more often an actress and rarely the full protagonist of the picture.
Winding Refn keeps things moving along in a brisk and entertaining form at the beginning, introducing a small - mostly female - cast of characters and the elements of conflict and character development you expect.
The photography by Natasha Braier is deliciously atmospheric, lit in rich hues of red and blue and Cliff Martinez’s thumping score draws us into a world of dark parties and darker intentions.
It’s all good stuff, until it isn’t. At almost exactly the halfway point, The Neon Demon changes into a completely different film. It’s almost as though Winding Refn flips a switch - previously he was trying to entertain, now he’s just seeing how much he can test the patience of the audience.
I don’t have direct access to this filmmakers brain but I feel confident in saying that it really is all a show, an exhibitioinst display to see how much he can get away with. Winding Refn winks at you from behind each drawn out shot and giggles at each groan from the audience.
At least it all manages to be less dreary than the leaden Only God Forgives but it also can’t help but feel like a missed opportunity. For all his talk of wanting to do a tale of women in this crazy industry, the film can’t help but be about the director himself.
As for the cast, they remain committed to the madness, even when it crosses the boundaries of any kind of good taste. Fanning is doing the waifish thing with a little bite, Jena Malone gets her best role in years and even Keanu Reeves does a good job. Aussie ladies Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee both work hard here, even when things get batty.
Ultimately , The Neon Demon is another vanity project straight from the mind of its creator. There are moments where it has something to say about the fashion industry at large and the technical merits are top notch but it all eventually crumbles in the face of Winding Refn’s absolute self indulgence.