‘THE NEON DEMON’ (2016) Movie Review – The Most Visually Stunning Psychological Thriller Of The Year
‘The Neon Demon’ is a Psychological Horror/Thriller directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (‘Drive’, ‘Only God Forgives’) and stars Elle Fanning (‘Maleficent’) in the main role. The film follows a young aspiring model who moves to Los Angeles and encounters a group of women who are obsessed with her beauty and would do anything to get it. This Psychological Horror is very intelligent and requires a lot of thought from the viewer and their full attention in order to get across a lot of the main plot points and key messages. It is a highly stylistic film with a strikingly stunning visual aesthetic accompanied by an amazingly well crafted score, a combination that is one of the best and most unique of the year. Unfortunately though, the film focuses so much on the design behind every shot that the majority of this film is style over substance. The beauty, and unsettling nature behind every scene is one thing but without much of a coherent plot or character development it was hard to get into the film as much as i would have liked.
Elle Fanning and Jena Malone admittedly are captivating in their character roles and the back and forth between these two and the way their relationship is expressed on screen make for some fairly distressing scenes throughout the film. The tones this film was aiming for were only effective due to the transformation of Elle Fanning into this very innocent, hopeful young model who gets thrust into the model industry like a deer in the headlights. So much of the film rides on the effectiveness of her performance and she held her own very well in a way many other actresses/actors in the film were not able to. Essentially all of the other characters were very one-dimensional and felt like characters from a script rather than real people. Again this is where a little shift of focus from the visual aesthetic to character building would have given us more than two interesting characters to follow.
The plot is undeniably chaotic and is a very vaguely planned out mess that will leave you wondering what is happening and why, scene after scene. There are a lot of scenes focusing on setting up symbolic meanings and underlying themes that build on the intelligence of the film and whatever social commentary it tries to elude to. And there are a lot of scenes that are nothing more than showing off the incredibly beautiful film-making and cinematography derived from Refn’s vision. But all of this leaves minimal room for scenes that specifically move the plot forward and explain where things are heading and why. This would have worked if it seemed that the film was being intentionally vague but it just came across as being forgetful most of the time.
So in the end, even though this film is classified as a horror it is most definitely more of a Psychological Horror/Thriller that is a lot more intelligent than any mainstream films in the same genre. The messages expressed by the film and the social commentary are really good elements of the film that were interesting to see explored. The visual style expressed on screen by Nicolas Winding Refn is stunning and really is the star of the show, that accompanied by a haunting yet beautiful score creates some captivating tones and many scenes that are just cool to look at. Unfortunately the lack of development and focus of a key plot at characters holds the film back a lot which is unfortunate. Style is one thing, but a lack of substance leaves you with an extraordinarily beautiful, stunning shell.
The more i think about the film and talk about the film, the more i admire what it was doing with the symbolic aspects and explaining things visually as oppose to narratively. This is a testament to the intelligence of the film that still has me thinking long and hard about it even right now. This gets a nice little score boost for now but it could well and truly change the more or digest this or see it again.