Nicholas Winding Refn is a true auteur, creating films that are uniquely his own vision. This element of control is not always successful, his previous film, Only God Forgives, received a relatively disappointing reception given the rapturous applause Drive garnered.
Certainly Only God Forgives is far weaker than the sublime, fairytale Drive, but it was clear to me that Refn is, quite rightly, not allowing the positive accolades that his first English language film received to cloud his own judgement and ability to create.
His latest effort, The Neon Demon, appears to retain many of the stylistic elements that his previous two films presented: an electronic soundtrack, neon lighting imbuing each frame, but it is his chosen focus that is different. His two previous films focused on a predominantly masculine narrative, with the protagonists in both (both played by Ryan Gosling) struggling to either assert their masculinity, or live up to the societal creation of it. The Driver is aware of how he should act as a romantic male, but struggles to truly accept this, whilst Julian is desperate to live up to a mythic masculine role defined through violence.
Here, in The Neon Demon, the narrative is decidedly feminine in nature, but seemingly no less violent or destructive in tone. The trailer reveals little about the plot, choosing instead to use a collage of scenes to create atmosphere.
Elle Fanning stars as Jesse, an aspiring model who moves to LA to try and make it big. She is told by Christina Hendricks (who is presumably her agent or talent scout) that whilst others crack under the pressure, she is ‘great’. Jesse is then seen interacting with a number of other models, partaking in photo shoots and castings. The model industry has long presented a fascination for me, the concept of this veneer of artificiality and danger, a premise which Refn seems to be using here. Jesse herself states that her mother always thought she was dangerous, but as yet, it isn’t apparent why.
Stunning visuals, with a heady atmospheric trailer, I hope The Neon Demon is a return to form for Refn.