The Neon Demon

Dir Nicolas Winding Refn, with Elle Fanning

An unsettling film from the start. The opening image was a gory version of the Bürgermeister’s Daughter. I had little idea what the film was about beforehand, so at first I took it as a straightforward tale of what happens to a very pretty 16-year-old trying to make it as a model in Los Angeles: exploitation, predation and ending in tears. As with the Vogue exhibition yesterday, image was everything – both in the world it depicted and in the film itself. However, after the Apocalypse Now scene of the eyes of the make-up artist above the bath of blood, I can only describe it as a fairy tale horror film: Snow White’s virginal beauty devoured by vampiric, cannibalistic, robotic models past their sell-by date (of 20 or so).

I didn’t much like the film – perhaps because I couldn’t adequately pigeonhole it, I found it lacking in depth –  but it was well done. The neon demon cast its vanity spell over everyone – except for the almost-boyfriend who stuck to the sentimental idea of inner beauty . . . but he was the one who photographed the opening cut-throat shots. (My inner Mrs Grundy found something unpleasant about the whole film.)

In retrospect, it’s interesting how Neon Demon’s story progressed through its images, with little explanation of anything. I thought about Map to the Stars, which was also unremittingly cruel, but more conventional with its back stories and reveals.

But images are powerful: I can still see some of them – particularly the wonderful shot of Jessie on the diving board “floating” above the empty swimming pool. Others I would prefer not to see again.

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