Nicolas Winding Refn isn’t shy. He’s become a brand these days, like Jean Luc Godard, who uses JLG throughout his work – this latest from the Danish bad boy (well, naughty) has the letters NWR stamped on the opening credits.
We do get what we expect from the auteur of Drive and Only God Forgives. This is thumping, synthesised, B-movie, genre cinema with a smart-alec twist – and i’m happy to say this time, for me, it worked.
The Neon Demon**** is cool and weird and quite funny, although it’s neither gory enough to be truly horrific nor arty or clever enough to be truly arthouse, despite its competition berth at Cannes last May.
The story concerns Elle Fanning as a young model freshly arrived in LA and being sucked in to the seedy world of fashion. This isn’t a fash-pack satire at all, more about the models and their roles as exploited products – Christina Hendricks sashays as a hungry model agent, there’s a moody photographer with a predatory stare and a “take your clothes off” bark, Keanu Reeves is a brutal motel owner (NWR loves motels) and Alessandro Nivola is a ridiculous callous designer who wants our girl for his new collection.
These are all decorative cameos. The main relationship concerns Fanning and a make-up artist who befriends her, played by Jena Malone. “You wanna go to a party?” she squeals, and Alice is sucked through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole of throbbing, strobing nightclubs, where she meets two other dead-faced, half-starved, skinny beautiful, green-eyed blonde models.
NWR doesn’t open up the world. It’s a sparsely populated minimalist approach, as standoffish as a cool magazine photo shoot, glossy and propelled by caffeine, drugs, cigarettes and Cliff Martinez’s excellent electronic score.
Models, like all of the fashion world and all of LA, is desperate for youth, for the latest elixir, and Elle Fanning’s beautiful innocent has it, whatever it is. They all want it. Not to spoil the film as it descends into shocks and horror, but we’re dealing with a Narcissus story, a Faustian pact, a cannibal horror that’s both sexy and silly, yet always cool, in a very Skandi style. I liked it a lot