When I initially saw Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon in theaters, it left me cold. However, a second viewing has left me with an entirely different impression. All of the elements that I had written off as pointless and depraved felt like they served a purpose this time. I already want to watch it again.
The Neon Demon tells the story of a sixteen-year-old girl named Jesse (Elle Fanning) who has somehow managed to move to Los Angeles on her own to pursue a career in modeling. So far, she has only modeled for a few obscure local artists, including a extraordinarily creepy young man (played by Karl Glusman of Gaspar Noe’s Love) who likes to take horror-themed photos of the young girl in exquisite dress and makeup, covered in blood. During one of these particular jobs, she meets a makeup artist named Ruby (Jena Malone) who is immediately smitten with Jesse. Ruby introduces Jesse to some of her fellow models, all of whom are taken aback by Jesse’s youthful looks and naiveté.
It is at this point that the film enters Lynchian-esque territory, with a touch of Dario Argento’s Suspiria – and maybe a dash of Pano Cosmatos’ Beyond the Black Rainbow – thrown in for good measure.
The film soon takes an extraordinarily dark turn, and for a film that was already pitch black to begin with, that’s saying something. As our protagonist, Jesse, becomes more comfortable with her own success, her ego inflates to enormous proportions, and all of this leads to a third act that is outrageous, excruciatingly violent, and oddly fascinating.
This is a film that thrives on style, mood, and atmosphere to tell a tale of shallow individuals who are trapped in a neon-lit, vanity-ridden hell of their own making, from which they will never escape. The desire for closeness, the longing to be someone else eventually manifests outwardly in abhorrent displays of cannibalism and necrophilia. Nicolas Winding Refn has given us a psychedelic, vampiric horror flick for the ages – backed by a terrific score.
The Neon Demon was so much better for me the second time around. If like me, you weren’t that impressed on the initial viewing, you really ought to give it another go. It’s quite rewarding.
It is available on Blu-ray from Broad Green Pictures, complete with special features on both the making of the film and the unforgettable soundtrack.