In an industry running out of ideas, so over-crowded with reboots, sequels, adaptations etc, if there's one director you can rely on for ingenuity and absurdity and just unequivocal filmmaking, it's Nicolas Winding Refn, and his newest film, The Neon Demon, brings it all and then some.

The film takes place in the fashion world and follows the starry-eyed optimist Jesse (Elle Fanning), a pretty and innocent young girl that moves to Los Angeles right after her 16th birthday in the hopes of becoming a model. Roberta Hoffman (Christina Hendricks), the head of the modeling agency, tells Jesse she has the potential to be a star and, as her beauty attracts lots of success and fame in this industry, it also attracts some unwanted attention from the aspiring model's bitter competition, fellow models Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee), who have been trying to make it big in this industry for years, not exactly getting too far, envious of this gorgeous girl who has come out of nowhere and taken all their success. Seeing Jesse as a threat, Gigi and Sarah want what she has, and soon all hell breaks loose as the corruption and darkness of this industry start to devour Jesse's innocence when she is preyed upon by other jealous models and forced to reveal her dark side.
Similarly to Only God Forgives before it, Refn's latest film, The Neon Demon, isn't one for everyone and has split audiences and critics alike; some adored the film when it premiered at Cannes back in May, whilst others booed it and walked out. Winding Refn is a very daring, unique filmmaker in this industry with an unequivocal voice and style; his films are very divisive marmite movies, a lot of the time, and The Neon Demon is certainly no exception (perhaps even his most divisive yet, in fact) - some love his work whilst others hate it. I, personally, have always been in the former category; I adore Refn's work, from the subliminal and incredible Drive to the relentless and absurd Only God Forgives and, now, the daring and beautiful The Neon Demon too. This  film is by far the director's boldest, most audacious film yet but it is also a very fine work of art too, quite literally. Each and every shot of this picture is absolutely gorgeous. The cinematography is utterly remarkable and Refn's latest is visual poetry; it's so stylishly captured and beautiful to look at, from the costume to the colour palette (Drive was very blue; Only God Forgives had a lot off red but The Neon Demon is a bit of everything), this is a work of art. If one thing's for sure, Nicolas Winding Refn sure as hell knows how to work a camera.

Sometimes the director's work can be overly stylistic, lacking in substance, but that can't be said for this film because it actually has a pretty competent narrative with well-written dialogue and somewhat believable, genuine characters. The story of innocence being corrupted by something they love is nothing new and Refn doesn't bring anything new to the table, in regard to storytelling or ingenuity, but the premise and characters work fine for what this film is and has to offer. Even then, The Neon Demon is still one of the more nuanced and compelling of the director's filmography. Nicolas also does a decent job at creating suspense here too, orchestrating the tension to keep you engaged and on the edge of your seat at times; the film is never really scary as you'd hope it would be (it is listed as a horror film after all) and the tone can be a bit all over the place and uneven at times but, for the most part, this film can be fairly chilling, not to mention pretty gross-out and just plain disturbing. It's an absurd and chaotic film but this perhaps works in favour of it, The Neon Demon relishes in this absurdity that keeps it (and us) on its toes.
The acting is phenomenal too. Of course, Elle Fanning is undoubtedly the highlight here. She gives a truly chilling and intoxicating performance as our lead Jesse, going from aspirational hopeful to corrupt and dangerous. It's a very different role from the sweeter, more gentle and dramatic performances she has given in the past - just compare to this her heartwarming turn in Maleficent as Princess Aurora and you'll see why she's such a great talent. Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, and Abbey Lee are also very great, with the former being a standout from the supporting cast. Christina Hendricks is also good for the little screen time she has, as is a scene-stealing Keanu Reeves in a very dark, seedy role, atypical from the characters he usually plays. There is some veritable chemistry between the cast too and they have such great, entertaining dynamics. The characters themselves are larger-than-life and contrived but it works in favour of this picture and helps sell their crazy, contrived antics - no spoilers at all from me but if you've seen the film, you'll know what sort of thing I mean. Oh, and Cliff Martinez's score is simply astounding!

In the end, The Neon Demon is a great film - in my opinion, at least. Aside from a couple of minor issues, this film is tremendous; Nicolas Winding Refn has done it again, delivering another remarkable, balls-to-the-wall feature. The picture about as dark and seedy as they come, very well and meticulously crafted. Of course, the film is a visual masterpiece; the cinematography is intoxicating and just so damn beautiful, but it's a film that is just so entertaining and gripping to watch. The characters and the story work for the film and it's audacious and bold and a film that truly defines this genre as an art-form. The Neon Demon is a work of art; from an artist at the top of his game - it's quite unlike you've ever seen before, I can assure you of that.

VERDICT:
Astutely-crafted and completely unequivocal, The Neon Demon is genius filmmaking. This is a film, and filmmaker, that relish in absurdity; Nicolas Winding Refn has delivered another audacious, balls-to-the-wall work of art that is hauntingly beautiful, visually intoxicating and just entertainingly chaotic.


About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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