Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn’s neon-noir macabre thriller The Neon Demon is the creepiest movie I have ever seen. So much so that I almost mistook it for an A24 film. The movie follows 16 year-old protagonist, Jesse (Elle Fanning) as she tries to launch a modeling career in Los Angeles. From one mesmeric sequence to the next, Jesse transforms from a timid and naive girl to a fully realized vixen, all the while dealing with a sleazy motel landlord (Keanu Reeves), elusive photographers, and the wrath of jealous models who (literally) want to eat her alive.
The movie comes off as tame, though a bit unnerving, in the beginning, with Jesse having just arrived in Los Angeles and being signed right away to a modeling agency after being told by an agent (Christina Hendricks) that she has the makings of an “It” girl. Unfortunately, this indefinable allure that Jesse has only attracts violence and all things morbid, quickly sending the movie down a dark and unpleasant path. The dream-like scenes quickly turn nightmare-ish, justifying the R rating. The movie serves as a commentary on society’s obsession with unattainable beauty. It takes place in a world where “beauty isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” to quote the movie itself. The captivating scenes paired over a pulsing Cliff Martinez soundtrack come together to tell an almost ritualistic and upsetting story about the currency of beauty.
Blindly going into this film, I had no idea what to expect but it certainly wasn’t that. The movie zigged when I thought it would zag and somehow managed to set new bars for obscenity in horror films with each subsequent scene. Thick with symbolism and subliminal messaging, the movie is thought provoking and allows room for interpretation. While chock full of triggering content and heavy material, it is a spooky-season appropriate choice for select viewers. I’m honestly unsure if I like it or absolutely hate it, but I definitely won’t be forgetting it any time soon. Watch at your own risk.