The Neon Demon Review: Grotesquely Brilliant

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By Vondra Tay

This July, put your internet on hold and catch some films at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF). Premiered at MIFF over the weekend, The Neon Demon (2016) is a horror psychological film about the outrageous modelling industry in Los Angeles where blood and guts meet fashion.

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, 2011), The Neon Demonis co-scripted by Mary Laws and Polly Stenham. It is Refn’s most aesthetically ambitious film yet.

The latest provocation from Refn’s debut film is about 16-year-old doe-eyed Jesse (Elle Fanning, Maleficent, 2014), fresh to the meat factory of the fashion world. Fanning is resplendent as Jesse, with Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote, as well as Jena Malone (Lovesong, MIFF 2016) starring as ‘It Girls’ in the modelling industry, Christina Hendricks and Keanu Reeves (The Matrix, 199,) all compelling in support.

An aspiring model whose youth and beauty proves irresistible to everyone she encounters, Jesse sets the modeling industry ablaze, leaving lustful desires and snarling jealousy in her wake.

That’s an ingenuous enough plot, but in Refn, whose trademarked films deal with nauseating sex and ultra-violence, concluding in his highly disturbing, signature endings.

Aided by Natasha Braier’s bold cinematography, Refn has portrayed the artificiality of the jaded modeling world in a visual metaphor. Saturated in chic aesthetics and neon lights, each shot is perfectly framed and meticulously crafted. Boding darkness with the combination of sound, imagery and design, it is an intoxicating and mesmerizing visual experience to behold with brilliant camerawork.

The Neon Demon’s plot revels in its psychedelic, psychotic surfeit, being darkly ominous at times but always bizarrely scathing. The film is grotesquely unsettling and provocatively sinister, sporadically zoning out into gestured drifting and ambient menace.

In fact, The Neon Demonresembles a sophisticated Vogue coverage, without looking like a trashy attempt to look couture. Instead, with the help of costume designer Erin Benach, it replicates high-end fashion down to the minute detail.

But the plotis truly ludicrous, in the world Refn is trying to paint. It is a senseless ballet of envy, warped erotic obsessions, necrophilia and cannibalism.

Gripping at times, you will either be repulsed, in awe or entertainedby The Neon Demon but its distinctive visual qualities will stay with you long after you’ve left the theatre.People who enjoy horror would savour gory bits of this film.

One thing’s for sure – this film will eat at you.

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