Anyone familiar with Nicholas Winding Refn’s last few films can see that he’s delving deeper into a world of violence and a side of human behaviour that is far removed from normality and it could possibly said he’s peaked that path with The Neon Demon. Elle Fanning stars as Jesse, a small town girl with the hopes of becoming a world renowned model, who actually has the looks to back up her dreams but as she begins to get what she wants the realities of the world she’s got herself into begin to take shape. Also starring: Jena Malone, Karl Glusman, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Desmond Harrington, Keanu Reeves and Christina Hendricks.Although Fanning’s face may be blasted on every piece of advertising for the film, the real stand out performance comes from Jena Malone, the lengths that she has to go to for her part in the film are no easy feats. Malone manages to show both a dark intensity at the same time as a selfless, kind quality to her performance as Ruby, although Fanning is still of course the main focus. From Daddy Day Care at the age of 5 to her breakout role in Super 8 at 13, Elle Fanning has shown that she could have a bright future ahead of her and though this film doesn’t change that, she clearly is talented for her age, but considering there is a fairly minimal amount of dialogue to the film, the quality of her performance seems to waver at points, resulting in a not quite disappointing but not revelatory performance. Hendricks and Reeves feel like they’re slumming it with this one, the former’s role consists of a couple of minutes which is almost insulting of the extremely talented actress and after making a slight comeback after the release of John Wick, Reeves should be making better use of his time (he can also be seen at the moment as the voice of Keanu, the kitten, in the film of the same name). The surprise of the film is Abbey Lee, who you may recognise from Mad Max: Fury Road and is currently filming the much anticipated The Dark Tower, her performance is disturbing but in the most complimentary of ways.
Whereas the acting of the film is not a problem, the rest has many problems, starting with the obvious that it’s simply slow moving, it’s lacking the sort of pace that would be very much suited to its edgy atmosphere. The second clearest issue is that it is missing substance in any shape or form, as a whole there’s fairly little that actually happens and most of which is either ridiculous or predictable, which is a glaring result of Refn’s self-indulgent style of film-making that as of recent times has become focused on visual style rather than the content. The style however is the major draw of the film, it’s fascinating to watch and utterly gripping while attempting to display meaning without words, although it’s far less subtle or mysterious than it believes itself to be. The more disappointing element is the rather transparent attempt to shock the audience with scenes that are to some disgusting and to others almost pathetic in the immediate failure of these obvious attempts. As mentioned already there is not an abundance of dialogue which is not immediately a problem, until you get to the fact that the little there is, is not written particularly well and often feels like it’s tripping up its actors and coming across as trying too hard.
The Neon Demon gives off a great visual impression, but it’s the only thing it has going for it, you could quite possibly watch the film in a faster speed and it might in fact make it a more enjoyable watch. There is a huge lack of any substance, it feels overly dramatic and drawn out for a film with only 3 or 4 important moments to the whole two hour experience. It’s quite clear that Nicholas Winding Refn has gotten much too big for his boots, even to the point that he uses the logo of his initials below the title of the film, some may call that being proud of your work, but others would call it arrogance; he has focused purely on what he would like the film to be aesthetically and entirely forgotten to make something worth watching rather than purely looking at. It is honestly quite hard to watch without rolling your eyes at its predictable attempts to shock and surprise which fall short, there just isn’t enough to make it worth its running time.