Nicolas Winding Refn’s new film The Neon Demon takes a deep look at the price of narcissism and beauty set against the Los Angeles fashion industry where beauty is everything. Watching The Neon Demon is like putting a puzzle together. The clues are there, but what do they mean? Where do they belong?
To truly enjoy the movie, attention to detail is necessary or the core message may not be easy to figure out. If you have an open mind and enjoy mind-bending horror, then this is the film for you. No, that may sound all good, but critics don’t seem to be catching on to the film’s premise. In fact, most critics seem to almost hate it.
In a seedy motel in Pasadena, Jesse (Elle Fanning) is a 16-year-old girl who lives to be fashion’s next IT girl. She has youth and innocence on her side, which is something that drives other girls crazy. Her fast rise through the fashion ranks seems to intimidate surgery obsessed Gigi (Bella Heathcote), infatuated Ruby, and Sarah (Abbey Lee) the model who feels invisible. As Jesse begins to rely heavily on her looks, she sets off a chain of events that she is not prepared for.
The title, The Neon Demon is purposely deceptive. This is not about demons, or monsters (as that is what people in the audience were expecting to happen), but really The Neon Demon doesn’t really exist. It’s a manifestation of the darkest parts of the human psyche and whether or not someone is willing to embrace their dark side.
Despite the haunting visuals, slow-building suspense, some critics have dismissed The Neon Demon as pretentious, shallow and outrageous. The Telegraph stated that at this year’s Cannes film festival in Paris, France, the movie was booed by critics and audience members alike.
Refn is no stranger to harsh criticism as his previous film, Only God Forgives was also booed at the 2013 Cannes film festival. Critics seem to be particularly offended by The Neon Demon and detest are not shy about expressing how they felt after the screening.
If it wasn’t so stupid and preposterous, I’d say see it for the laughs, but trust me when I say you’re on your own—and I mean it.
–Rex Reed, Observer
The Neon Demon is hot garbage that dares you to call it offensive. In addition, it’s offensive.
–Glen Kenny, Variety
The Neon Demon is often productively brash, even if it is ultimately more preposterous than it is satisfying.
–Simon Abrams, RogerEbert.com
By shattering every possible taboo, the film is supposed to be an attack against the very thing it represents. Really, though, any semblance of commentary is simply a posture for Winding Refn to cover his a**.
–Giovanni Marchini Camia, The Film Stage
This isn’t surprising as most blockbuster sequels, as well as original movies, have not been critically and/or financially successful this year. In fact, IndieWire states for the last five years, original film concepts have not fared well. For example, the Wachowski’s siblings space opera Jupiter Ascending flopped at the box office. Several other original films like American Ultra and Transcendence didn’t seem to catch on with viewers either.
Nicolas Winding Refn knows his audience. He realizes they are a smart group of people who will either like or hate his work. But he knows that it will create a dialogue. Isn’t that what a movie should to do? The critics may not agree, but in a sea of sequels and CGI blockbusters, The Neon Demon is at least refreshing film to watch.
[Image via Vendian Entertainment]