The Neon Demon (2016)7:53 PM
Beauty is Vicious
This review contains Spoilers
The Neon Demon is directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives) and stars Elle Fanning (Maleficent, Super 8), Jena Malone (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Pride & Prejudice), Bella Heathcote (Dark Shadows, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies), Abbey Lee (Mad Max: Fury Road, Gods of Egypt) and Keanu Reeves (John Wick, The Matrix). "When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has". The Neon Demon has been marketed as the modelling version of Black Swan - can it be as good or even better than that film?
I wasn't going to write a review on this film - just rate it and move on. However, I've just finished watching and I feel like I have to discuss it straight away. That doesn't mean I enjoyed the film because I actually thought it wasn't very good but there is definitely a lot to talk about. I wanted to see this film when it came out in cinemas but it got a limited release and wasn't playing near me. Tonight, I was looking for something to watch on Amazon and it came down to this or V for Vendetta and I ultimately chose The Neon Demon (I kind of regret that decision). The film is artistic and very on the nose with its themes but it doesn't flow too well and is in two halves - the first is a dramatic and artistic take on the modelling industry and the second is just disturbing and bizarre, but not as horrific as the film wants to be.
I was kind of hoping this would be the film where Elle Fanning gets to prove she is a star and is just as good, if not better than her sister. Fanning definitely seems to work best in family themed roles where she plays more of an innocent character like in Maleficent and Super 8. Fanning wasn't bad in this film at all but she just felt out of place, especially in the second act. I could definitely believe her naivety and shyness in the first act but as soon as her character 'transformed' into this ultra-confident and quite unlikeable personality, Fanning didn't really seem to be working well with the material and I wasn't too convinced - I don't know whether this is down to Fanning's performance or because the character became so unlikeable. A similar thing happened to Jena Malone who I was really liking in the first half of this film - her performance was very strong but then her character went through a random transition and it all just felt very...random. I think its possibly down to these actors not actually being given good material to work with in the second half of this film. Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote definitely shined in the second half in this film, but not because their performances were outstanding. The second half is where everything became bizarre and weird and these two characters were a big part of that - Abbey Lee especially will be remembered, most notably for the final scene. So the performances in The Neon Demon are nothing special and for half of the time, they don't really work well with everything else that is going on.
The script and narrative is definitely one of this films biggest flaws - firstly, the script is extremely predictable - I literally guessed (and was correct) upcoming lines, it was so generic! Like I mentioned, the film is split into two halves which is similar technique that has been used and worked with other artistic films like Spring Breakers - this split kind of signifies a transition and what follows is usually full of artistic meaning and genius ideas. However, I didn't really get The Neon Demon at all - the only thing I could guess the hidden meanings are to do with are greed, power, fame & success - but that doesn't really come as a surprise. Even though some may say the first half is pretty bland, I was actually enjoying watching the dynamics of the modelling industry. I was sat wondering when the film was actually going to go somewhere though as IMDB calls this a 'Thriller/Horror'. Then the film goes somewhere and it literally transitions with a sequence that begins with blues and pinks and ends with reds. This obviously has something to do with the demon element of the film. Fanning's character then becomes much more arrogant and unlikeable after this - the success has gone to her head. Then the film takes its bizarre route where these models become cannibals - however, don't be sold on this as none of that happens until 90 minutes in. The final 20 minutes are probably the most interesting - Lee and Heathcote almost mirror the actions of Hudgens and Benson in Spring Breakers - it was a little too similar for me. They become these two girls that turn on everyone else and end up in power. However, the film drifts away from this similarity in the last 5 minutes when one of the girls kills herself and the other eats an eyeball - I know..weird! The film hints pretty obviously about this cannibal element throughout so it isn't a surprise - it is a little too 'on the nose' with the themes - many times throughout the films, eating puns are in sentences and there are interactions between characters that mirror vampires etc. The script is silly and predictable and the narrative is muddled but does provide great critical value - some people will really enjoy delving into the hidden layers of this thing.
The cinematography is definitely artistic and there are a variety of really interesting camera angles. However, the film does try a little too hard to be artistic as The Neon Demon can't go one scene without something that isn't normal. I would actually say the cinematography has vibes of neorealism - there are many deep focus shots and long takes. Yes, The Neon Demon is certainly full of Neon but until somebody explains to me what all the meanings of the colours are and what the intentions of all these camera angles were, I just don't get it - I'm usually the type to want to find this all out myself but The Neon Demon just doesn't motivate me to do so - the hidden meaning is either so obvious it doesn't feel right or there is something completely different that is just going to come out of nowhere.
I also want to briefly mention the score which definitely played a part in creating mood and atmospheres throughout the film. Unlike most, this score is actually pretty recognisable and fits in well with the style everything else has. I especially like the song played in the credits by Sia but that doesn't really count.
So what genre is this film? Is it a thriller? Is it a horror? I wouldn't really say it is either. I may be leaning towards the Art House genre as this film is incredibly artistic. However, the last 20 minutes probably do fit into the thriller genre but that isn't enough for me to recommend this to anyone who is a fan of thrillers as The Neon Demon really is a slow burn to get to the thrilling moments. The Neon Demon also isn't as horrific as it wants to be - don't get me wrong, there are some disturbing moments but they aren't horrific and I think this was down to numerous things - the performances and just the actual execution seeming a little silly. Lets take the final seen for instance, one of the characters kills herself to get the demon of Fanning's character out of her, beforehand, she regurgitates an eyeball. I would say just some guts or other bloody materials would have been a better choice than an eyeball. Then Lee eats the eyeball and the film ends - it sounds silly on paper and it is executed poorly too. The only reasoning I could think of choosing an eyeball is that Fanning's character mentions earlier on in the film that the moon was like a big eye to her as a kid (despite her character only being 16) so eyeballs seem like a theme in The Neon Demon.
Wow, The Neon Demon really is an interesting film that definitely has a lot of critical value - maybe one day, I will come back to it and analyse it thoroughly and really understand what Winding Refn was doing. However, for now, I don't really get it and the whole film is just a little too on-the-nose so I can't really imagine many hidden themes. The acting isn't anything special or memorable but the actions those actors have to carry out are definitely not forgettable. The cinematography is very complex and artistic but the script is predictable and generic, despite the narrative as a whole being muddled and contrived. Unless you really love reading into films, I cannot think of any other reason to recommend The Neon Demon because at surface level, it really is quite silly.
What did you think of THE NEON DEMON? Could you uncover any hidden meanings? - COMMENT BELOW
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