It’s a classic American premise: the small-town ingénue chasing a dream in the big city. In this case, the city is a shimmering, decadent LA – an otherworld in electric blue – and our hero is Jessie (Elle Fanning), a sixteen year old model about whom the film insists that you think two things: firstly that she’s extremely beautiful, and secondly that she’s something of a shrinking violet.
Then it proceeds with a series of pointedly uncomfortable, over-long scenes shot with the eye of a prurient casting director. It’s a confrontational type of cinematography that won’t work for everyone, replicating the shallow gaze of the fashion shoot.
Jessie quickly rises to the top, and Elle Fanning is excellent as a young woman caught between uncertainty and self-possession. This is quite some achievement given the script’s knowing insistence that its characters trade largely in clichés (one of its less effective postmodern gambits.)
Jessie’s success breeds resentment, and in a sudden eruption of sublimated violence the film descends into a B-movie vortex of body horror and shock tactics from which it refuses to emerge. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Even as it spirals into pandemonium, The Neon Demon somehow manages to retain its gloss and polish. Rarely are glamour and gore so deftly entwined.
Clearly Winding Refn is a stylish director, but the question of whether or not he’s a substantial one is more difficult to answer. Maybe the two things are hard to disentangle, especially in a film as concerned with image culture as this one. In the end, The Neon Demon defies easy criticism. Gratuitous, elegant, kitsch, sensationalist, depthless, artful: somehow it manages to be all of these.
|What||The Neon Demon film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
08 Jul 16 – 09 Sep 16, Event times vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here to visit the film's IMDB page|