The Neon Demon
A Review By Ben Hunter
5 Out Of 5 Stars


Another good kind of weird.  So good yet so weird it’ll leave you speechless!


The caliginous night.  Evenings filled with obscure reality and even unearthly venture.  But one would never suspect such an encounter.  Or could they?  I mean, to give one’s all in passionate endeavor can be quite the skirmish of favor.  Favor sought to be gained, deserved, and honored amongst one’s aspirants.  Except for in this manner, aspirants can be tyrants.  And one so innocent, so virginal, and so pure can succumb to the will of the power of favor sought.  Thus, being eaten alive as the saying goes.  Bringing new life to one’s fellow tyrants, a name you now share.  With new life and the saying also giving unique meaning to … “You’ll never work in this town again”.  

Welcome … to Hollywood.  

Elle Fanning as the innocent model Jesse, following her dreams in The Neon Demon.  
“I used to think as I looked out on the Hollywood night — there must be thousands of girls sitting alone like me, dreaming of becoming a movie star.  But I’m not going to worry about them.  I’m dreaming the hardest!”  - Marilyn Monroe 
Everyone has had this dream at some point in their life.  To live the magical experience of being adored from anyone who witnesses the worth and the inspiration a person can release inside of another’s heart.  The tension no longer prevalent, a calmness throughout, and everything in the world … is good.  Why?  Because you have a dream.  A dream to wake up everyday and live for.  A dream to stand back up again and fight for when swept unwillingly off your feet.  A life to strive towards, even when others, others such as those tyrannical aspirants tell you that it’s over.  But for some reason, you never stop, you don’t quit, and you never give up.  Because you have a dream.  

Now, granted, most of us grow up one day.  And while, this dream that determines why we were so young and dumb and is the very definition why we made all the foolish decisions that narrated our 20’s, nevertheless, a lot of this is what gets us going in the right direction towards responsible adulthood (some much later than others).  Still chasing the dream in one way or another.  

So, apply this to young, not even legal, Jesse (Elle Fanning).  Just trying to make it big as a model, without a cent to her name, or any real direction to navigate towards.  Chasing the dream as best she can.  There’s something about her that magnets photographers as well as “aspirants” but differently.  She befriends Ruby (Jena Malone) who looks out for her in a big sister-like fashion.  Eager to protect but still drawn in like the rest of the aspirants even though Ruby is not even a model, but a make-up artist.  She just has to have her for whatever the reason, for herself, just so no one else can have her.  Thus blurring the lines of appropriation.  

Jesse, so innocent, so pure, so virginal, ciphering to keep her purity in a world that wants to take it all away.  
As Jesse climbs the ladder, easily winning over obstacles that other models (Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee) took years to overcome or at least get to a point where victory is obtainably within reach, the ease of Jesse’s success becomes alluring.  Who the hell is this girl?  What is it about her that entices anyone she graces their presence with?  To see the look of hurt and self-assessment on the girls that fall short to her dexterity is a testament to the mood and allure that writer/director Nicholas Winding Refn, NWR (Drive, Bronson) was attributing to.  The slow editing that reveals the emotion of an unsuccessful aspirant, beat by beat, shot by shot, as she starts to understand the decisions and dictation underway.  Jesse so innocently and honestly proceeding.  The casting director engulfed in that honesty.  The aspirant angry with such honesty.  Jesse finishing up her proceedings.  The aspirant, the casting director, the aspirant, the casting director, the aspirant again now with a slight tear down her cognizant cheek, comprised of such pertinent bone structure.  Yet, it’s all about Jesse.  The casting director immersed in Jesse without a word spoken.  It’s over, and now we all know it.  Jesse slightly coming to, and gives a smirk.  Cut.  

Now this girl has to die.  Who the hell does she think she is to just come into my town that I’ve been trying to work over for the past decade?!  Jesse’s unadulterated nature become lucid, yet in this natural state, her defense and protection qualms designed to cohabit with mother nature, start to overbear her.  She becomes frantic, paranoid.  Her landlord Hank (Keanu Reeves) looks at her slightly more than appropriate and she nightmares of unwelcomed touch on his behalf.  Pushing away the only real friend and possible true love Dean (Karl Glusman), she turns to the very people who want what she has.  And who will obtain it at any cost.  

The struggle to stand apart and be recognized as "acceptable".  
Lessons of purity in heart, of staying the course, and never giving up as corny as that may be.  Even if you’re young and naive, don’t sell your soul to Lucifer to get what you think you want.  For it’s never the case in these circumstances.  I really saw myself in our heroine; as a newly enrolled film student, living in Hollywood, eager and naive to the city’s pitfalls.  Trying not to let it eat me alive to never work in this town again.  As cheesy as that sounds, this concept was beautifully captured as the theme in NWR’s latest.  Stay true to yourself and what you believe in to never let that happen.  

As Jesse is just trying to make sure she covered the basics before heading to a casting agency (did I brush my teeth, are my shoes matching, did I put on some underwear for goodness sake) and her casting agent Roberta Hoffmann (Christina Hendricks) adequately and decisively asserts the theme of the story, it eloquently captures the message and pushes the theme forward as each scene thereafter continues.  Even though Roberta is tough, she still is feminine which doesn’t make me hate her, and the point comes across that there’s something about Jesse, thus driving the overall narrative.  Again and again, scene after scene, we return to this conclusion and this leads to a building predicament for our virginal demigoddess.  Which inevitably consummates to a burning, liberating, resentfulness that will not be satisfied until justice is dismounted and distributed.  All building to a point.  All leading to an artsy and unexpected result!  

I never thought I’d thoroughly appreciate NWR this much as he typically puts me off with his style of reveal in his storytelling (he’s weird).  This style for Neon Demon was no different.  It’s classic NWR, but I could really relate to this narrative as I’ve been where Jesse’s been.  New in town, no money, no accomplices, nowhere to go, but living on a dream and never giving up, so everything else fell in line.  The direction of each shot as Jesse becomes one with her discipline and craft.  As photographers, lights, runways and the like propel her upward and the slow, eerie mood of NWR all help to perfectly accentuate the true beauty of Jesse’s character.  I would’ve thought a more stereotypical beauty would more appropriately suffice.  However, Elle Fanning fits nicely into this character as she herself is basically new in town and not really a household name like her sister.  So her honesty shines through and it’s perfectly believable that she can pull off a mesmerizing girl living in her innocence.  

Even singing sensation Sia contributes to keeping the allure and helping you to never forget your dreams!  

The Neon Demon (2016)
Horror/Thriller, 118 Minutes, R
Story By: Nicolas Winding Refn
Screenplay By: Nicolas Winding Refn and Mary Laws & Polly Stenham
Directed By: Nicolas Winding Refn 
Cast: Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Karl Glusman, & Keanu Reeves

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