Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Amazon Studios/Broad Green Pictures/Scanbox Entertainment
Taking the colour scheme of his previous films – a palette that extends beyond lighting to the hue cast by the film’s score (Cliff Martinez with another, nearly film-saving soundtrack) – Nicholas Winding Refn now has a default-setting. The Neon Demon follows Only God Forgives down a self-indulgent tunnel though there’s an attempt at least, with this film, to mean something – if not make some sense.
Elle Fanning is Jesse, underage and an epitome of off-limits beauty, thrown into the cut-throat (metaphorically at least – and spelled out in overt dramatics) world of modelling in vapid L.A. The fashion shoots would happen in New York but that’s the least of this film’s worries as, in trying to set up a Lynch-ian waking-dream walking-nightmare scape, Nicolas Winding Refn can justify anything as impressionistic and everything as intentional without being literal. The gauzy cling of Hollywood’s weather is suddenly part of it even though this story could never really happen in this location. This either doesn’t matter at all or the irritation of it is part of the puzzle, part of the plan.
The Neon Demon has far bigger problems.
But the absence of discernible plot – just a waft and drift of scenes, existing as much as A/V installations – means this runs out of steam before it runs out of puff. The set-up has no pay-off and in that fine tradition of art-house pretending to be profound it’s final scene is horror only as something grotesque, not as any true torment. It’s laughable. Never the idea when something is calling itself any kind of horror movie.
This of course could be justified as being a fitting statement for the phone-obsessed world of today and as some deep (and deeply unsettling) metaphor for the horror/terror of performing on a stage, of signing up, and being caught in a world of demons both personal and metaphysical. But saying that something so lacking in substance is a comment on the lack of substance in this modern world is a meta-prank by-product at best, a fluke result and not something I can buy into it.
Cliff Martinez’ score is beautiful and fitting and scene-lifting – particularly as it carries the film through the intriguing sweep of its first half. But it’s not enough. And nor is Nicholas Winding Refn in default-setting mode.