The Neon Demon: A Horror Fairy Tale of Beauty

Pamela VelázquezBy Pamela Velázquez

Three years after “Only God Forgives”, Nicholas Winding Refn makes a comeback with one of the most anticipated films of the 2016 and releases “The Neon Demon”. Being an unconventional psychological horror, blending all the glamour and the horror of the beauty, this film also came as one of this year’s biggest surprises.

The princess of this scary fairy tale is Jesse (Elle Fanning), a sixteen-year-old model with no family or real friends, who comes to Los Angeles to make it big in the fashion industry. The dreadfulness of her future path is anticipated at the very beginning, as she is posing covered in fake blood. Jesse is a natural born beauty, the one everybody is looking at when she enters the room – the IT girl. She doesn’t know how to deal with her scum landlord (Keanu Reeves), but she knows how to conquer the runway – all she needs to do is to be there. All those assuming that the biggest danger in the fashion world may be the lusty men could be proven to be wrong in this film. The true horror, as depicted here, lies in the jealousy of the other models, the ones who want to have “it”, to be with her or to be her. As the story unfolds, Jesse slowly becomes aware of all the abominations holding together the world she is already ruling. Simultaneously, Jesse blends her own fears with the reality, giving this film an opportunity to manipulate us heavily and play with our perception. Some hard jealousy, some skyrocketing ego, some unavoidable vanity, all of it coming both from the reality and Jesse’s burdened mind – and the Neon Demon is born. It is all about the loss of innocence and inauguration into a horrific fashion micro-world.

The visual strengths of this film rely not only on the eclectic directing but also on the carefully lead photography. You can’t miss the importance of the lightning, giving the sense of an artificial atmosphere during the most of the film. The protagonists come as plastic dolls under the neon lights, with Jesse being the Barbie doll. Such techniques also ring a bell of aesthetics present in many music videos. Actually, Refn composes this film almost as a consistent music piece, using the power of the score to enhance the editing ideas and create a dynamic rhythm and tension.

The story may appear as unfinished, and such conclusion comes mostly as the consequence of the betrayed expectations. However, this film doesn’t treat the protagonists as a part of the visible reality. It witnesses only parts of the reality regarding the strictly chosen subject of beauty as a blessing and curse. Eventually, the story completes its intentions depicted in the beginning – the innocence of a sixteen-year-old is killed in this cruel fashion world. However, what came as a surprise is the fact that her path was treated somehow superficially and observationally. Refn has described the demons precisely but missed a chance to explain them and make them more layered.

The Neon Demon remains a visually valuable piece with an interesting, but not so deep insight into the world that is obviously abundant with the cinematic potential of horror materials.

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