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The Neon Demon

  • Film
  • 3 out of 5 stars
Neon Demon

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

'Drive' director Nicolas Winding Refn's latest is a horror story set in the LA fashion scene

We know from 'Only God Forgives' and 'Drive' that Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn likes to drench his stories in neon-soaked atmosphere and bypass real emotion in favour of actors floating through his films like zombified 'Thunderbirds' puppets. Now he has a subject to match his style: the Californian fashion world. 

Jesse (Elle Fanning) is a fresh-faced teen ingenue on LA's fashion scene who signs to a top agent (Christina Hendricks) and is soon walking catwalks for a pretentious top designer (Alessandro Nivola). Her new friends, a make-up artist (Jena Malone) and two very slightly older other models either fancy her, envy her or want her dead. 

Gorgeous, obvious, vapid, beautiful, a bit boring. You could say all those things about the fashion world, so perhaps it's only right that a film which tries to recreate the essence of that world in a hyper-stylised way feels exactly the same. Refn being Refn – a shock-merchant with a dab hand at beautiful, often mesmerising imagery – he goes way further than just adopting the look of fashion shoots for a whole movie (although you could probably find images from magazines to match almost every still of this movie). This is also a story of blood-thirsty narcissism, cannibalism and necrophilia. There are scenes of a model being forced to swallow a knife and a make-up artist having sex with a dead body. You don't get that in your average Armani ad.

The 'demon' of the title is also literal, and gives us the film's best sequence: an occult-looking symbol, it possesses Fanning's character at a point where her innocence tips over into self-love, kicking off the film's way-over-the-top but blackly comic climax. For all its visual wizardry and the soothing burr of Cliff Martinez's low-key score, it's hard to bear the film's long scenes of near-silence with only snatches of stilted dialogue and endless ponderous interactions between models. There's little humour, and strip away the styling and what it has to say about fashion has been said a thousand times before. But there's a mesmerising strangeness to Refn's vision that can't be denied, and Fanning does an especially good job of portraying innocence lost in the belly of the fashion beast.

Dave Calhoun
Written by
Dave Calhoun

Release Details

  • Release date:Friday 8 July 2016
  • Duration:110 mins

Cast and crew

  • Director:Nicolas Winding Refn
  • Screenwriter:Nicolas Winding Refn, Mary Laws, Polly Stenham
  • Cast:
    • Keanu Reeves
    • Jena Malone
    • Christina Hendricks
    • Elle Fanning
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