Neon Demon Review: As Pretty and Empty as its Subjects

Nicolas Winding Refn has made a name for making stylish indie films with Ryan Gosling. While his movies are great to look at, they don’t really convey any deeper meaning beyond slick imagery. His true M.O. is a literal interpretation slathered with meticulously composed images. Neon Demon is no different.

Neon Demon does look interesting at least. If you’re a cinephile who appreciates technical skills in crafting imagery in filmmaking, there are a lot of moments here to pass the 2-hour running time.

In fact, the entire movie is like a series of slick fashion ads inspired by – apart from Refn’s go-to influences Kubrick and Lynch – Argento, Bergman, and Grand Guignol.  In one scene as Jesse makes a dramatic tumble, soft blonde tresses, and rose petals gently fall as the camera takes a close up of Elle Fanning’s cherubic face. In another, lighting casts her shadow on a beating wall as she eavesdrops on her next-door neighbor.

That’s all there is to this movie.

There is a premise here set in the fashion industry. It’s the age-old tale of an innocent who enters a cutthroat world of predators. While we all already know that models are treated as no more than objects. Model castings have changed for the worse since the ’90s when supermodels were still allowed to have a personality.

But Refn is a curator of aggressively shocking referential images than a storyteller, so we’re given another hyper-stylized dreamscape that doesn’t go beyond the obvious, with cut-out characters doing some weird shit set to a synthy soundtrack. It’s a surrealist horror thriller with an anything-goes plot. So apart from all the auteur posturing, there’s necrophilia, cannibalism, and kinky violence.

The cast does what they can for their disposable characters.  Elle Fanning glows, but it’s hard to see what she has more than anyone else, other than that the lights turn off and things go in slow motion when she’s photographed by a guy that looks like a serial killer moonlighting as a fashion photographer.  The rest is ice princesses inside mannequins.

Neon Demon ends with lust and jealousy taking a literal conclusion after a series of images designed to look cool and make you say, WTF is going on? And none of them is thought-provoking nor compelling.

Neon Demon


Neon Demon is a long-winded self-indulgent film about the fashion industry, no thanks to a monotonously weird script and cut-out characters.

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