Nicolas Winding Refn has traded in the usual machismo for his newest effort The Neon Demon but that doesn’t mean he’s also giving up his penchant for violence. Set in the Los Angeles modeling world, Refn doubles down on the seedy to explore how the industry turns women to cannibalize eachother (in this example, literally). The film’s success is somewhat measured without the smarts to make its plentiful interesting ideas really resonate. Like many provocations, this one may be more interesting for the discussion it creates outside of the film than in its own confines.
Elle Fanning is Jesse, a new talent lying about her age and finding absurdly instant success. Demon relies heavily on the actress’s always natural charisma to embody a purity that it ultimately deceives once she becomes like her fembot competitors (Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote, both appropriately vacant and pitch black hilarious). Jenna Malone’s performance as the makeup artist growing increasingly attached to Jesse is the highlight – not just game for the film’s most exposing and shocking elements, but deftly handling huge and bizarre character shifts with complete ease.
The film is entrancing and evocative, like an evil younger cousin to A Bigger Splash and its shared themes of glamour deceiving a questionable moral compass underneath. But the film can only pull you in so deep before its passive elusiveness pushes you away towards the film’s conclusion.