The Neon Demon is a movie that is entirely contrasted by its light and dark segments. Sometimes there are scenes that are perfectly illuminated, others that are pure black, save for those little shapes that emerge from said darkness before they are enveloped by them. Then there are the crossroad scenes where there is equal light and darkness on both sides and eventually, one must be taken.
Elle Fanning is an up-and-coming model that seems to have what it takes. She is slim, blonde and beautiful. Everyone seems to gravitate towards her, she gets signed with an agency easily, the top photographers desperately want to photograph her and the other models have their plastic surgeons cut and stretch their faces to make them more desirable while she simply is. So she becomes desired by some, while for others the source of hate and both to others still. That really is the grand total of the plot. The rest of the experience consists of mood and images that we are given to experience.
We’ve seen this story before, plenty of times the story has been told of the bright lights of Hollywood that cast dark shadows and the pressure and ugly side of fame. Movies like Black Swan, Hollywoodland, The Informers, Perfect Blue, Birdman are examples off the top of my head. Having a similar theme or message is fine in a movie, but what it needs is to distinguish itself from the others so that it’s original. This movie operates on the level of a music video. Having more emphasis on the mood and the image with minimal dialog sequences with such distance that look like they’re out of a Kubrick movie. Director Nichols Winding Refn works best when creating inspired new images and environments.
The mastery that Refn has on placing of the lighting and sets makes him a category of his own. No one else has such images and scenarios running through their mind. He always paints such striking, and quietly disturbing setups to put the characters in or physiologically experience.
The other prominent presence in the movie is the musical score by Cliff Martinez. At times it is a twinkling fairy-tale tune and others a fever dream, and it always fits with the pacing and colors on-screen.
People have said that a re-make of Susperia will happen one day. Well while a true re-make would be foolish this film is like a spiritual successor. Both are horrors in terms of their frightening moments, mostly Fe-male cast and have their sets and musical scores speak more than their dialog ever could.
Something you will walk away from this movie remembering are some of the darkest, most disturbing scenes in movie history. Moments that are born from the most depraved part of the human Psyche and desires warped by evil intent. But darkness can be forgiven if there is genuine intent and reason for it. Having something unsettling on-screen is one thing but whether its because the filmmakers want you to think about the why rather than hoping to get a reaction from you and then leave you with nothing.
The Neon Demon will leave you with something. It is a dark look into the pursuit of fame and beauty. But also the knowledge that if that is someones soul goal then it will lead them out of the bright lights, then they’ll be the darkness and nothing will be left.