If Black Swan was directed by Dario Argento then we might have something a little more like this. Unfortunately I’ve never found an affinity with the giallo scene and so you can guess which way I’m swaying with this review, but in all much of the sour taste that Neon Demon left in my mouth comes from a pervasive feeling of frustration that falls out of everything Nicolas Winding Refn does. The man himself said that he doesn’t mind whether you love or hate Neon Demon so long as you feel strongly about it, but unfortunately I may let the man down, as the only compelling feeling I have is one of disappointment.
Continuing Refn’s tradition there is little plot to go on for Neon Demon. Jesse (Elle Fanning) is a 16 year old small town girl (living in a lonely world) who flings herself into the ampitheatre of the LA fashion scene. Those around her quickly realise she has something special and where some hail her beauty, others are out to do whatever to get what she has.
In production and story Neon Demon is superficial. Refn’s intended commentary on the fickle industry of fashion and its ability to turn wide-eyed girls into monsters is outwardly evident, but I still couldn’t grasp what he wanted us to think about that other than to show it happens. The very fact that Neon Demon’s best feature is its aesthetic has the film flaunt the very product its critiquing. I think if Neon Demon was an overwhelming success that commentary would be extremely meta and effective, but of course early response has the film as a resounding meh.
And that’s the annoying thing. I didn’t love or hate the film as Refn would intend. There was so many moments I loved. The Bladerunner-esque soundtrack is a delight and paints the mood fantastically. Visuals are unquestionably sharp and even some of the set ups are filled with tension and horror, but it’s these positives that makes the film so frustrating. For each great moment there is spewed up eyeballs, a mountain lion in a motel and lesbian necrophilia that unfortunately balances it all out. For some of those moments the metaphoric intention is evident but it doesn’t matter if it borders on silly. Of course, at one point in life some may have said the same about the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and so if our intellect advances over the next 50 years and Neon Demon is lauded as a classic, then I will gladly eat my futuristic hat. Until then, no thank you.