Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest, The Neon Demon, is a “flawed and infuriating” let-down from his previous films, with a charmless protagonist and confused tone.
Copenhagen-born professional provocateur Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest owes something to his similarly LA-set Drive (as well as other listed influences like Un Chien Andalou, Lolita, Valley Of The Dolls, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Shining), and yet this is a far more flawed and infuriating effort. Rather like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive rehashed in the fashion world with labourious horror-movie overtones and a protagonist you’d love to throttle, it’s this filmmaker’s weakest and silliest film so far.
Jesse (Elle Fanning, although it was nearly Drive’s Carey Mulligan), a wannabe-model with no family, no ties and a portfolio composed of dopey glamour shots full of fake blood, is trying to make it in Los Angeles, and there are plenty of posy sorts around to take advantage of her. A make-up artist named Ruby (Jena Malone) invites her to a party where bitchy, nipped-and-tucked models humiliate her in scenes so desperate to be Lynch-ish it’s embarrassing.
Modelling agency head Roberta (Drive’s Christina Hendricks) kindly states that she’s not that special, a creepy photographer (Desmond Harrington as Jack) smears her in paint, another up-himself type (uncredited Alessandro Nivola) gladly makes her the subject of much catwalk jealousy, and her nasty landlord Hank (Keanu Reeves, actually pretty good) scarily threatens her, after something very odd is found in her room.
After much gaudy posturing, we eventually get down to the business of Jesse losing her soul (and more) as Refn decides that this is a pseudo-splatter-movie, but by this point we couldn’t care less about Jesse, whom Elle (16 during filming, as old as the secret age of the character) plays as a such a weirdly gormless ingénue that she’s almost begging to be mistreated. And she is too – and who cares?
Considerably more pretentious than Refn’s previous pic Only God Forgives and a real comedown after Drive, Valhalla Rising, Bronson and his Danish productions (like the Pusher series), this ends on a final mystery, as a pre-end-credits title reads ‘FOR LIV’ and reveals that this whole ghastly thing has been specially created as a love letter for his wife. And you therefore do have to wonder: what the hell did she ever do to him?
Rated R. The Neon Demon is in cinemas now.