There's little humour, and strip away the styling and what it has to say about fashion has been said a thousand times before. But there's a mesmerising strangeness to Refn's vision that can't be denied, and Fanning does an especially good job of portraying innocence lost in the belly of the fashion beast.
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While always an amusingly twisted ride, The Neon Demon is marred by pensive stares and monotone monologues about superficial desires that drag on, and on. Fortunately, Refn treasures shock value over all else, and his movie delivers on that promise with a depraved third act.
The director has set out to make the most repellently misogynistic film imaginable, yet he’s disguised it as a postmodern feminist satire. By shattering every possible taboo, the film is supposed to be an attack against the very thing it represents. Really, though, any semblance of commentary is simply a posture for Winding Refn to cover his ass.
Spectacular, gross and delicious (so unsavory it’s almost sweet), the film is more proof of Refn’s mastery of his trash aesthetic and more fun than anything this indulgent and empty-headed has any right to be.
The fact of the matter is that Refn has now become so predictably shocking that the truly shocking thing for him to do would be to make a film without attempting to shock.
The Neon Demon is a tease. It starts off as a relatively scannable, user-friendly thriller, but it turns out to be a movie made by a macabre surrealist gross-out prankster.
When Fanning is off screen, we are marooned in a fashion shoot in a hell of silliness. Yet her star quality gives The Neon Demon what substance it has, and Refn’s film-making has self-belief and panache. Take it or leave it.
When the film reaches its logical end point, Refn just keeps pushing, and eventually lands on a sequence so jaw-dropping...that all you can do is howl or cheer.
The intended metaphors and commentary about the interchangeability and disposability of bodies are entirely clear, although from the evidence it would appear that Refn is perhaps even more entranced by the surface glamour of the world he so voluptuously depicts than he is repelled by it.
Refn’s gifts as a visual stylist are employed to arresting effect - there’s a luxuriant use of colour which evokes the work of fashion photographer Guy Bourdin. But peel back the glossy, overly groomed surface and there is not a lot of substance underneath.