The Neon Demon

Movie Information

The Story: A young model moves to Los Angeles and finds herself the center of attention, some of which is more dangerous than others. The Lowdown: A dull, pretentious and shallow examination of high fashion.
Genre: Tawdry Art Drama
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Karl Glusman, Bella Heathcote, Keanu Reeves
Rated: R



Director Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) is perhaps the only living director who could take a film that’s essentially about cannibal supermodels and a necrophilic makeup artist — with detours for a menacing, knife-wielding Keanu Reeves — and make it into something dreadfully boring and exhaustingly pretentious. That is a special kind of talent. What Refn has made here with his latest, The Neon Demon, is Art with a capital “a,” which amounts to a lot of languid camera movement, pop colors and the kind of electronic music that sounds like the “Cosmic” iPhone ringtone. And, to crank up the import of all this, he spends the entire time fetishizing the filmographies of Stanley Kubrick and (God help us) Mario Bava. The Neon Demon is trashy pulp nonsense at its heart, but Refn never understands that junk should be fun.




Refn has very little to say but feels very strongly about his need to say it. The Neon Demon is — nothing more, nothing less — a film about the shallowness of the fashion industry and our perceptions of physical beauty, told in the most shallow way imaginable. Elle Fanning plays Jesse, a sort of Dirk Diggler-type creation (we’re constantly told ad nauseam how naturally beautiful she is) who shows up in Los Angeles at age 16 to become a model and immediately begins turning heads — and making other models jealous. She’s taken under the wing of Ruby (Jena Malone), a wise and helpful makeup artist, and begins seeing a young photographer named Dean (Karl Glusman). But her promise soon attracts attention, things begin to fall apart and her life turns more violent and surreal. A mountain lion shows up in her dingy hotel room; the hotel manager (Reeves) may or may not be stalking her and her neighbor); she begins to have visions and nightmares (fans of Italian horror films will point to “dream logic,” as opposed to the nonsense it really is).




This all leads to a climax (followed by a never-ending parade of denouements) that’s supposed to be either offensive or shocking but instead comes across as unintentionally funny, thanks to Refn’s piddling pace and inability to simply entertain. There’s enough striking and — more importantly — nonsensical imagery here to make it all feel like art. It’s vague enough to seem like Refn has something to say, but the end result feels vapid and childish. When he does come out and just get to the point (like the foreshadowing of a character wearing lipstick with the eye-rolling name of Redrum), he’s heavy-handed and clumsy with kind of pointed, obvious and none-too-thoughtful social criticism in the Chuck Palahniuk vein with the spineless style of a giallo. It’s the kind of easily dissected, yet obtuse, cinema that’ll get a couple of papers written about it in a film school somewhere, with little use to anyone else. Rated R for disturbing violent content, bloody images, graphic nudity, a scene of aberrant sexuality and language.

Playing at Carmike 10 and Carolina Cinemark.


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12 thoughts on “The Neon Demon

  1. Reeves Singleton

    Well, I got a lot more out of this than Justin did. Certainly, I didn’t find it dull or even all that pretentious (though, I admit, I struggle to name a movie, or even a work in any other medium, that I would call “pretentious,” which leads me to believe that pretentiousness is simply a quality that I have a high threshold for), and, hell, I even thought that it was pretty fun on an intentional level. I guess this just didn’t feel like a self-serious attempt at making “Art” to me; it felt more like a damn fine stylist having a grand time translating a nonsensical concept to the screen in a ridiculously straight-faced manner, all of which seems to me to be Refn’s M.O. at this point. (The approach and tone here is pretty much identical to that of Only God Forgives and Drive, although the latter reads to me as being much less self-aware than its two successors.) All of which may be giving Refn more credit than he deserves, but that the doesn’t change the fact that I had a good time with his latest.

    • Able Allen

      I’m confused. Is that a John Wick photo? It does look like it, but he’s in Neon Demon too.

        • Able Allen

          Gotcha. That image has been floating around in association with the pre-buzz around the movie, so when you google Neon Demon and Keanu Reeves it pops up.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            Understandable. They’re both mighty fine films…possibly the start of a Keanussance? Or some other term that doesn’t sound like “nuisance”?

  2. Me

    I wasn’t expecting it to just run one week, I was hoping it was going to expand to more theaters in the next couple of weeks.

    • Edwin Arnaudin

      It might outside of Asheville, but I think it’s too specialized to have caught on locally. As Ken noted, it really should have been screened for critics.

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