Warning: The following article contains spoilers for The Neon Demon.
Nicholas Winding Refn has always been a unique filmmaker. Drive is one of my favorite movies and while both Only God Forgives and Valhalla Rising looked great, they both lacked story and characters. Enter The Neon Demon, which stars Elle Fanning, Keanu Reeves and Jenna Malone and it tells the story of an aspiring model that moves to L.A. and her beauty catches everyone’s eye and makes the rest of her competitors jealous, making her rise to fame a living nightmare.
This is a very strange movie and while the story doesn’t always work and not everything is tied together at the end, I always felt myself drawn to The Neon Demon. It’s without a doubt one of the year’s best looking films. The visuals are absolutely gorgeous. And you can expect that with a Nicholas Winding Refn movie. His films always look beautiful and The Neon Demon is no exception. Every scene is visually breathtaking and the imagery sticks with you long after the movie is over.
The first two acts are pretty dramatically different from the third act, which becomes a horror movie. We are introduced to characters that are just dropped and never heard off again. Keanu Reeves plays Hank, a creepy hotel manager where Elle Fanning’s character Jesse stays. A cougar breaks into her room and Hank blames her for leaving the hotel door opened and demands her to pay for the damages. Her boyfriend pays for her and she dumps him so abruptly. Its like her character completely shifts in one scene and she is such a bitch to him and it really comes out of nowhere. Their relationship seems to be going great until this point and she just tosses him aside for her boss. It just seemed so abrupt. And while you can say that she is becoming more and more narcissist, it really felt rushed and out of place.
We also get no closure to Hank. Elle Fanning has a dream about Hank putting a knife in her throat and she wakes up to someone trying to break into her hotel room. But we get no explanation of that and that entire storyline is just drop when the film fades into the third act.
Jesse goes to live with Ruby for her safety. It’s not long before Ruby tries to have sex with Jesse, who rejects her and throws her off the bed. Upset, Ruby goes to her second job to a morgue and has sex with a corpse, fantasizing about having sex with Jesse. It’s incredible to actually think that Jena Malone actually did this scene for real. It’s so uncomfortable to watch and so insane. Jena Malone completely goes out there in this film and I need to give her major props from her performance in this film.
Ruby returns home to find a narcissist Jesse on a swimming pool diving board. Jesse is then attacked by Gigi, Sarah and Ruby with knives as she tries to escape. Ruby pushes her into the empty pool, killing her. Ruby then takes a bloodbath, watching Gigi and Sarah having sex completely covered in blood in the shower, indicating that they ate her whole.
The next day, Sarah drives Gigi to a photo shoot at a mansion hosted by her employer Jack. He is suddenly enthralled with Gigi, something he never has noticed before. Since they are near a swimming pool, Gigi starts to become ill and feeling sick, removes herself from the photo-shoot and vomits Jesse’s eye.
Sarah witnesses this as she begins screaming “I need to get her out of me,” feeling guilty for what she has done, before cutting her own stomach with a pair of scissors and opening her abdomen, killing herself. Sarah watches her friend die, eats the eyeball and silently returns to the shooting set.
So who is the Neon Demon? Elle fanning is. She has the beauty that everyone craves. Is beauty the only thing that matters? Nicholas Winding Refn said that he wanted to make a film about beauty and that fashion was the best area to put this place in. You don’t have to agree with his viewpoints but it is a fascinating topic nonetheless and The Neon Demon does a great job off exploring them. And while you can tell that Refn has some weird fetishes that he likes to show on the screen (he has called himself a pornographer) but you can’t help but admire the man for trying something different.
Overall, while The Neon Demon doesn’t fully tie everything together and not everything is explained, the film does have staying power. It makes you think. The visuals, the performances are what makes this movie memorable and while the narrative sometimes does falter, it’s an original work and it will disturb a lot of people and it might bore some people but it’s really a unique experience.