© Koch Media/24 Bilder

The Neon Demon
France/Denmark/U.S.A. 2016

Opening 23 Jun 2016

Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writing credits: Nicolas Winding Refn, Mary Laws, Polly Stenham
Principal actors: Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote

Jesse (Fanning) is 16 and dreams of – what else – being a fashion model. She leaves her small town in Georgia and takes off on her own for Los Angeles (what were her parents thinking?). She checks into a motel. For another 100 minutes we watch her sink into a spooky world of survival of the fittest. Will she perish or grow to become a horror in her own right? What creature has gained entrance into her motel room? What is the role of the motel manager? Who are these three beautiful models around her? What about a boyfriend? What does the fashion world mean if “you can always tell when beauty is manufactured” or “beauty isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

The Neon Demon showed at the 2016 Cannes film festival and prominent German film critic Hanns-Georg Rodek thought it should have received at least a prize for production or lead actress Fanning. My group of film critics left the cinema in a daze, saying “What was that all about?” It is slow-moving, surreal with no real storyline, has much repetition, lots of slow motion, and is sometimes pornographic and often silent. Is it a coming of age film even if life ends early? It leaves much to the imagination so the better your imagination the more vivid your impressions.

Naturally, Elle Fanning is excellent. The three models (Malone, Heathcote, and Lee) are beautifully sinister. Abbey Lee is a professional model from Australia and her Australian accent is prominent in the English version. Director Nicolas Winding Refn comes from Denmark; he originally chose to film in Tokyo, but his wife, Danish director Liv Corfixen, put her foot down and Los Angeles was a compromise. Refn said, “Is it possible to make a horror film without any horror” (as if an eyeball rolling on the floor is not horror). He films in chronological order, which he says is more difficult.

The Neon Demon calls for a particular audience of intense film fans, who wish to learn more about a certain genre of film. They will be perfectly happy here, although even they might leave the cinema with questions still unanswered. (Becky Tan)

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