The Neon Demon Reviewed by Jon E Clist


The Premise
Sixteen-year-old aspiring model Jesse arrives in Los Angeles expecting to be a successful model. The aspirant photographer Dean takes photos for her portfolio and dates her. Jesse befriends the lesbian makeup artist Ruby and then the envious models Gigi and Sarah in a party. Meanwhile the agency considers Jesse beautiful with a "thing" that makes her different and she is sent to the professional photographer Jack. Jesse attracts the attention of the industry and has a successful beginning of career. But Ruby, Gigi and Sarah are capable to do anything to get her "thing".

The Review
It wasn’t all that long ago that Drive was a break out cinematic hit. It was one of those films that united pretty much all the film critics and reviewers that I know and their sentiment was pretty much echoed by the public. His follow up film Only God Forgives did not get the same level of cohesive praise and yet it was certainly another beautifully filmed and edited piece of cinema. However, the characters weren’t as compelling and the story was a little more piecemeal. Anyway, here Refn Winding has returned with his latest explosion of cinematic colour in the form of The Neon Demon. He has returned in a similar vein to Only God Forgives with the collection of edgier content being thrust into the storyline.

The rating kind of says it all and although this film is rather amazing to behold from an artistic point of view, the level of some content has slimmed it’s already narrow target audience to a very small group. R18 – Contains Violence, horror, sexual material & necrophilia. I know what you are thinking, “I have never seen the word necrophilia in a films NZ rating notes”. Well I tried to check it out and found that there have certainly been several horror films that have had it as a central theme and to be honest, I am a little shocked. In The Neon Demon, it is a scene that demonstrates one of the main characters depravity and focus on the selfish drive to fulfil one’s own lust and fantasies. I am certainly not convinced that it needed to be in the film as there were plenty of other scenes and elements of the storyline that achieved the same thing.

This is a film that is certainly having a big dig at the shallow and fickle world of fashion, modelling and beauty. There is a massive focus on the lengths that people will go to to stay in the world’s central gaze; to be the most important, the most beautiful and even if it is in a shallow way, the most loved. Without going into detail as to how these emotions and elements are demonstrated on screen, I will say that Refn Winding certainly has used his imagination to great extent to manifest this crazy world.

I came out of this film feeling in some ways morally violated and yet challenged as to how I view the entertainment world’s thirst for beauty and relevance. I can understand from my own movie going life that sometimes we need to be slapped in the face with the horrid in order to see what is behind it. Not everyone can stomach that and not everyone should. If you were to take the violence and bad language out of Once Were Warriors, it would not move you, nor would it drive you to hate domestic violence and thirst for change. While I do not think The Neon Demon’s message is quite as poignant, nor as relevant to as many people, there is still a lesson to learn. Yet probably a better way to say it to reach more people.

The Verdict
Not for everyone, in fact not for many and yet so many visually amazing components make this film something rather challenging, thought-provoking and intriguing.

The Trailer

The Info
Releases: 24th November 2016
Rating: R18 – Contains Violence, horror, sexual material & necrophilia
Duration: 118 minutes 
Genre:  Thriller/Drama
Starring: Jena Malone, Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Abbey Lee, Bella Heathcote
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives)

The Extras
The film was shot in chronological order and the ending was created and improvised on set, according to Elle Fanning

The second film by Refn to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival that received booing and jeering after the press showing.

Elle Fanning was 16 years old when the film was shot. She was 18 years old when the film premiered.

Elle Fanning replaced Carey Mulligan.

Throughout production, when filming was to resume, director Nicolas Winding Refn wouldn't yell "Action!" to set things in motion. Instead he yelled "Violence Motherf*****s".

One of The Neon Demon's most striking features is its use of colour. In an interview Nicolas Winding Refn stated that he is in fact colour blind and can only perceive contrast.

Nicholas Winding Refn made Elle Fanning watch Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) for her preparation.

Cliff Martinez, who worked on the film's soundtrack, described the movie as a mix between Valley of the Dolls (1967) and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974).

This is the first female led film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. He approached Elle Fanning for revisions of the female character's dialogue to make it sound more authentic.


Elle Fanning had to endure a lot of fake movie blood during production, even having to taste a portion of it. The crew made it taste like syrup, to make it more pleasing for the performers.