Tuesday, October 25, 2016
The Neon Demon
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and screenplay by Refn, Mary Laws, and Polly Stenham from a story by Refn, The Neon Demon is the story of a young and aspiring model who travels to Los Angeles where she is part of a modeling agency only to raise the ire of other models over her youth and beauty. The film is a study in the world of glamour and what will women will do to maintain their beauty and fight those to earn a coveted spot. Starring Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Karl Glusman, Abbey Lee Kershaw, Bella Heathcote, Desmond Harrington, Christina Hendricks, and Keanu Reeves. The Neon Demon is an eerie yet evocative film from Nicolas Winding Refn.
The film follows the life of a young and aspiring model whose key to success is her beauty where she is signed to a modeling agency despite being underage where she finds herself having to compete with older models who despise her. It’s a film with a simple plot yet it doesn’t play by any rules in terms of conventional narrative as it’s more about what this young girl is encountering as well as the people she meets. The film’s screenplay by Nicolas Winding Refn, Mary Laws, and Polly Stenham doesn’t just explore the dark and demanding aspects about the modeling world in terms of its cynicism but also how this young girl with a pure sense of beauty and innocence threaten those who doesn’t just need work but also try to maintain their own beauty as they’re getting older. For the character Jessie (Elle Fanning), she is someone who came from a small town in Georgia as she meets a young photographer who takes some photos and somehow managed to get connections with the biggest and best people in the business.
Jessie is someone that is truly the embodiment of innocence as she is someone that lives alone in a seedy motel in Los Angeles run by a strange and mysterious man in Hank (Keanu Reeves). When the makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone) takes notice of her, she becomes this guardian of sorts for Jessie as she would introduce her to a couple of models in Sarah (Abbey Lee Kershaw) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote) who are both still beautiful but are struggling to get work as they see Jessie with disdain. Aside from Ruby, the only other person that Jessie meets who treats her kindly is a young photographer named Dean (Karl Glusman) whose photos would give Jessie the connections in the world of modeling. Still, Jessie encounters things that are odd as it play into her innocent persona which would descend as the story develops. Especially as her descent would lead her to dark places as well as the people she meets who have an agenda towards her.
Refn’s direction is definitely stylish not just in the compositions that he creates but also in this world that is quite surreal in its overly-stylized setting. Shot on location in Los Angeles where it is a character in the film as this world of glamour and beauty that is entrancing but also has this air of darkness as it is set in the highly-competitive world of modeling. Refn’s usage of the wide shots would play into that world of glamour as well as capture some of the chaotic events of the modeling world with the usage of tracking and dolly shots while he would also use medium shots for scenes involving multiple characters in a conversation. Refn’s framing and how he puts his actors into a composition are key such as the scene in the bathroom between Jessie, Ruby, Gigi, and Sarah where Refn as Jessie at the edge of the frame to emphasize how much of an outsider she is. There are also these weird moments in the film that add to the surrealism that Jessie encounters such as a cougar in her motel room, the things she dreams or sees on the runway during a show, and some of the offbeat behavior of the people in the modeling world including Gigi and Sarah.
Refn would also create some ambiguity into the characters that Jessie meets such as Ruby and Hank. The latter of which is very creepy as he’s only in a few scenes yet is someone that is quite unsettling for how he presents himself and the things he says as it is something Dean would be shocked by. Then there’s Ruby as she is kind of this maternal figure of sorts in the film for Jessie but she too is offbeat. Notably for what Refn reveals in the other job that she has as it’s also even more unsettling to great extremes as it reveals how far Jessie has descended into the world she’s in. The film’s climax is definitely eerie and definitely plays into something that is very violent as it play into the horrifying cynicism of the modeling world as a key character states some harsh truths on beauty. Overall, Refn creates a rapturous yet scary film about a young model’s arrival into a very dark and brutal world.
Cinematographer Natasha Braier does brilliant work with the film‘s very colorful and evocative cinematography with its usage of many colored lights and mood including neon lights as it help play into the high-octane modeling world for many of the interiors as well as the exterior scenes at night while going for something natural and beautiful in other exterior scenes in the day and night. Editor Matthew Newman does excellent work with the editing as it is stylized with some rhythmic cuts while maintaining some moments that are straightforward including a few montages. Production designer Elliott Hostetter, with set decorator Adam Wills and art director Austin Gorg, does fantastic work with the look of the studio sets as well as the seedy motel that Jessie lives and the home that Ruby is house-sitting at. Costume designer Erin Benach does amazing work with the costumes to play into the high-octane world of fashion with all of its designs including in the casual clothes the women wear.
Special makeup effects work by Ruth Haney, Kristy Horiuchi, and Dean Jones, with hair stylist Enoch H. Williams IV, do superb work with the makeup from the macabre look of Jessie‘s first shoot as well as some of the things she and the other models had to look as well as in the hairstyles. Visual effects supervisors Peter Hjorth, Sunit Parekh, and Tonni Zinck do terrific work with the visual effects as it only play to a few scenes such as a few things that Jessie sees as it relates to the surreal elements of the film. Sound designers Anne Jensen and Eddie Simonsen do incredible work with the sound as it has these unique textures and mixes as it play into the suspense and horror as well as some of the surreal elements as it is a highlight of the film. The film’s music by Cliff Martinez is phenomenal for its eerie yet haunting electronic score with the layers of synthesizers and ambient textures as the soundtrack would also feature some cuts by other electronic acts as well as pop singer Sia.
The casting by Nicole Daniels and Courtney Sheinin is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Jamie Clayton as a casting director for a shoot, Charles Baker as Hanks’ assistant Mikey, Houda Shretah as Sarno’s assistant and Alessandro Nivola in a small yet terrific role as the fashion designer Robert Sarno who has some very biting and cynical ideas about the world of fashion and what beauty really is. Desmond Harrington is superb as the photographer Jack McCarther as this professional who is creepy but also has an eye for talent while Christina Hendricks is fantastic as the modeling agent Roberta Hoffman who sees the beauty in Jessie as well as give her some advice about how to forge ahead in the world of modeling. Karl Glusman is brilliant as Dean as a young photographer who takes photos of Jessie for her first photo shoot as he is one of the few kind characters in the film that becomes taken aback by the cynicism and narcissism of the fashion industry.
Keanu Reeves is excellent as the motel manager Hank as this very creepy and lecherous individual who seems to be more concerned with money than one’s well-being as he gives this great monologue of sorts of the kind of business that he does. Abbey Lee Kershaw is amazing as Sarah as model who is quite bitchy as she is desperate to get back in the game and get work as she has a real disdain towards Jessie because of what Jessie is able to get. Bella Heathcote is remarkable as Gigi as another model who is the nicer of the two as she is someone obsessed with trying to look good as she would also do a lot of plastic surgery as it play into the harsh reality of beauty at all costs.
Jena Malone is incredible as Ruby as a makeup artist who is this strange yet offbeat maternal figure of sorts for Jessie as she is someone who had seen a lot but also carries a very dark secret. Malone’s performance is also quite complex where she is very kind and warm to Ruby but there are elements that are quite scary as she does things that are very extreme as it is very chilling performance. Finally, there’s Elle Fanning in a spectacular performance as Jessie as this young 16-year old girl who knows the only thing she has in the world is her beauty as she starts off as this embodiment of innocence as her naivete is key to that performance. By the second half as she encounters these surreal elements, Fanning does become a big darker but also anguished as someone who sees that she is growing up too fast as well as thinking maybe there is a real cost to natural beauty as it is a career-defining performance for Fanning.
The Neon Demon is a tremendous film from Nicolas Winding Refn that features phenomenal performances from Elle Fanning and Jena Malone. Along with a great ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, an eerie music soundtrack, and gripping themes on beauty. It’s a film that showcases the world of modeling at its most cutthroat as well as going into great lengths into what women will do to remain beautiful in a very dark world. In the end, The Neon Demon is a magnificent film from Nicolas Winding Refn.
Nicolas Winding Refn Films: Pusher - Bleeder - Fear X - Pusher II - Pusher 3 - Bronson - Valhalla Rising - Drive - Only God Forgives - The Auteurs #12: Nicolas Winding Refn
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