Danish director, Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest film The Neon Demon, is a psychological horror film set in Los Angeles competitive modeling industry. The story centers around Jessie, an aspiring model with natural beauty and charm that captivates everyone she encounters. Following the protagonist’s short modeling career from her arrival in the city to her cataclysmic demise, we see how fleeting and aggressive a career dependent on youth, beauty, and favoritism can be.
Refn uses carefully composed and ultra-glossy shots (achieved with a custom camera) to create a world that looks straight out of a magazine. Some viewers have critiqued this strong visual style, questioning whether or not Refn’s strong aesthetic and shocking content takes priority over the story development. If the story does fall short, it still manages to poignantly capture society’s relationship with youthfulness and beauty worship.
The film allows the viewer the most unique perspective of experiencing the story from the inside looking out. While most mainstream films would use this story to objectify its young female characters, Refn is able to make the audience feel just as watched and judged as the models on screen. In a Q & A with the filmmaker, the question was posed as to why he had chosen to set his film in the modeling industry. He explained that he had always wondered what it was like to be beautiful. This says a lot about how the story is approached. Although many of the characters Jessie encounters want to have her or use her, mainly they would like to be her.
Refn also revealed that after spending time working in the fashion industry he often felt some of the shoots he did seemed silly and melodramatic. This is visible in the performance, as the characters can be exaggerated in their actions and expressions. Most of the audience could not help but laugh as the protagonist was repeatedly gawked and stared at throughout the film by her colleagues.
Although on the surface this movie may come across as a shallow story meant to shock and awe audiences with gore and beautiful people, there is definitely some insight into society’s anxiety over beauty and acceptance. Either way, it is definitely worth watching.