Jessie (Elle Fanning) is newly arrived on the modelling scene in Los Angeles when things begin to take a sinister turn. After gaining immediate notoriety amongst her fellow models in the cut-throat world of fashion, Jessie finds herself fighting her rivals in an increasingly dangerous game. Jessie is striving for fame surrounded by brutal and vacuous individuals. Everything has a sharp edge. Her youth brings immense popularity but also paints a target on her. She contends with seedy photographers, motel managers, and vicious colleagues.
Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Valhalla Rising) is a director who takes great care over his work and that is clear with The Neon Demon. Every shot and every scene appears to have an unsettling attention to detail. Everything seems loaded with meaning, each object and character positioned to a certain effect, mirrors, lighting and more used to get across some message to the viewer. The very first shot of the movie features Jessie being photographed, with her throat painted to appear as though it has been cut and she is bleeding to death. Not all of the imagery in the film is as clearly satirical as this and as things progress more and more is demanded of the audience. While the plot of the film is never entirely obscured, it is of secondary importance to the audio-visual experience. There is a psychedelic quality to proceedings, with an eerie synth soundtrack playing over surrealist scenes and occasional strobe lighting. Towards the end of the film it drifts into more grotesque horror that seems an oddly fitting climax and release of the tension that is built up during the taut psychological thriller vibe of the early parts. The cinematography by Natasha Briaer is exceptional and every shot is in itself a work of art.
The Neon Demon treads a delicate line between pretention and entertainment and is sure to divide opinion. The film is one that is best understood on a thematic level. It deals with the predatory nature of those in the fashion industry, the quality of youth and beauty and how it is prized in society, paedophilia, necrophilia and the way that desires can have a definite dark side. It takes its cues from Kubrick, Lynch and other avant-garde film-makers, and comparisons can be drawn with film such as "Under the Skin", "Black Swan" or "Perfect Blue". Incredible cinematography, truly unique visionary directing and a horror that works on multiple levels.