The Neon Demon came out in 2016, but we at THP understand the discovery of oldies but goodies. While 2016 wasn’t all that long ago, we still think it should get some recognition. We recently checked it out, and this movie isn’t for the faint of heart. The tension holds for so long your muscles will feel sore. Is it a scary movie? Is it depicting real-life LA?
Nicolas Winding Refn
“If you love it or hate it, I don’t care, because I did it exactly how I wanted to do it. That probably means it is going to polarise. Polarisation is good because then you have been violated.“
The director and writer of this fascinating movie. He’s known for other works such as Drive, Bronson, and Only God Forgives. Like most art and politics, the reviews were polarizing. The movie received mixed reviews upon release. Much like Drive, The Neon Demon has styling and pacing that only Refn could pull off. He creates and portrays his leads as stoic yet bewitching. He creates a marvelous tension by taking everyday stereotypes and thought processes and playing heavily on what the audience would assume or fear.
His attention to color and extremes is brilliant. The way the movie opens will make you immediately think “Is someone going to get murdered in this?” His apt for attention to the sensitivities of a person’s psychology and symbolism makes this movie that more intriguing the deeper you look.
Overall, this film is an exploration of many things, but above all else a fear of failure.
Let’s take a look:
This film would be nothing without the lead role of course. Our main character is Jesse played by none other than Elle Fanning. She does wonderfully for being only 17. In the movie, she plays a 16-year-old runaway aspiring to be a model. Her character is stunning, and above all, innocent. Will LA give her what she craves?
From there, we have Jena Malone playing Ruby, Bella Heathcote playing Gigi, and finally, Abbey Lee playing Sarah. These girls are in the main focus befriending or being wary of this stunning newcomer. Ruby tries to befriend and be there for the girl; She is a make-up artist and an interesting one at that. Gigi and Sarah, on the other hand, are two models who immediately feel threatened by sweet innocent fresh blood.
A big name today that has a smaller role in this is Keanu Reeves. We recommend that if you love Keanu though to mentally prepare yourself. He isn’t the most friendly and lovable character in this film, as he plays the motel owner of where Jesse stays.
Then finally, there is Jesse’s sorta boyfriend Dean played by Karl Glusman. He gives off some weird vibes, we’re not going to lie. We won’t spoil too much though, so go watch and see what he does! This movie will not only surprise you but make you think.
The lighting and set designs are stunning! Not only that, but the movie was directed by Natasha Braier; She did some phenomenal work in The Neon Demon, which is easily showcased in the trailer above. There isn’t a whole lot of dialogue, but that just makes the moments more memorable and puts the pressure on Braier; showing rather than telling is the key here.
“When you see ‘Neon Demon,’ every shot, every aesthetic decision is so extreme and so confident that you’d think it’s totally planned from the beginning, but the interesting thing is that it’s not.”
Natasha Braier, indiewire
The world created from this feels real, which is juxtaposed to what we see when it comes to LA models: airbrushed beauties and flawless lighting. While lighting here is flawless, it is that way because of its intent. There is a purpose in it whether to direct your eyes or stylize a moment.
In The Neon Demon, there are many dark lit scenes with starkly contrasting lights or glitter. And one big warning to those with epilepsy. There is a moment towards the beginning of the movie where the girls go to a party and there is a scene with flashing lights.
You may find yourself getting excited in Jesse’s climb for glory. It feels like an underdog tale until…
⚠️ Spoilers! ⚠️
Okay, so last warning ⚠️ spoilers! We get that the movie may be older, but you wanna look with fresh eyes. We did it, so just go watch it and we’ll be right here waiting!
…well the ending. Did you expect that ending? We sure didn’t. We know looks could kill, but that is an amazingly blunt way to put it and a bit of an understatement. Fear is indeed the main focus. An underdog story? It had potential to be one, but the last turn kind of broke our neck.
Building to a Climax?
Most of the film is spent building Jesse into a little powerhouse as she quickly gets offers over one of the models. Her pure, delicious innocence is showing, and it is glowing wildly. Jesse’s true colors only show in the last half of the film, a teetering glimpse at what a monster she could be, but unfortunately, when a lamb runs with wolves…
“You know what my mother used to call me? Dangerous. “You’re a dangerous girl.” She was right. I am dangerous.”
Jesse, The Neon Demon (2016)
She could have been dangerous, very dangerous, but she didn’t quite play her cards right. The stylistic and sensual moments are spot on without getting too uncomfortable. Jesse has a fear of being dominated and is still very much an innocent girl, which we can see through her moments involving the motel keeper and later with Ruby. She brushes off her sort-of boyfriend because now she sees what she could be.
“I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t write… no real talent. But I’m pretty, and I can make money off pretty.”
Jesse, The Neon Demon (2016)
Jesse is very pretty, and as the fashion line designer, Roberto Sarno, said, she is a genuine beauty. She’s not fake or plastic, like many of the other models. Thus inspiring fear in the other models: fear of growing old and useless. In a scene with Ruby, Gigi, and Sarah at the diner, they recount a girl who said the life span in the modeling industry is very thin. Again, at the end of the film, while Sarah sits waiting for Gigi, a similar topic pops up.
In the end, Sarah’s fear drove her to do what she had to do without a single drop of remorse.
–End of Spoilers-
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Featured image courtesy of The Neon Demon Official Twitter
Images courtesy of Screenmusings, IMDb, spiderliliez.tumblr (GIF) and Amazon Studios