The latest film from Danish provocateur Nicolas Winding Refn is a surreal satire that puts narcissism under the microscope.

The latest film from Danish provocateur Nicolas Winding Refn is a surreal satire that puts narcissism under the microscope.

By Chris Edwards, reviewing from Vue West End

There???s a lot to be said for a director who can squeeze in a lesbian necrophilia scene and still have their work taken seriously. Nicolas Winding Refn, the visionary responsible for Drive, Bronson and Only God Forgives, clearly wants his latest film The Neon Demon to make you gag and throw your large popcorn combo at the screen in disgust. But is his visually distressing story about the ugliness of narcissism actually artful, or is it just an excuse to douse half-naked supermodels with blood?

Given the opening scene depicts the protagonist provocatively posing for a photo shoot with a slit throat, I???d be inclined to say the latter. However, Refn conveys a cynical message about the industry with such visual style that it becomes difficult to dismiss this as simply perverse. It???s a surreal satire that???s by no means as vacuous as the glacial robot people it???s mocking.

The plot is simple enough: a naturally beautiful teenager, Jesse (Ellie Fanning), comes to LA in hope of becoming a model. Instantly admired by world-class photographers and fashion designers, she evokes jealousy in two dead-eyed models with manufactured faces (Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee). They???re not too happy about the speed of her ascension and see physically consuming her as the natural solution. Literally. They want to drink her blood.
Neon Demon
Vampiric mannequins aside, Jesse is struggling with a different kind of demon – vanity. Having been told by everyone within a makeup brush's reach that her raw beauty is intoxicating, she inevitably ends up being consumed by narcissism. This is effectively portrayed in one particularly nightmarish scene in which she snogs her own reflection. These are the moments Refn relishes: bizarre, dream-like sequences, using strobe neon lights and xylophone chimes to indicate when stuff is getting messed up. Not that you need any help identifying a woman bathing in blood as a bit weird.

What Refn achieves with his tantric instrumentals, he also achieves with silence. Watching the models satanically stare at Jesse is far more uncomfortable when there’s not even the sound of a gnat to distract from it. There’s no outside world, either. Apart from Keanu Reeve’s character (a dangerously creepy motel owner), everyone in this film is, in some way, connected to the modelling industry. As Alessandro Nivola’s fashion designer states, “Beauty isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” By showing how empty and vicious that world is, Refn successfully makes the beautiful people look like corned beef.

You’ll love this film if you thought Black Swan was tame.

See this film with someone willing to embrace the absurd.

Meet with friends before the film at Yates’s. You’ll need a few drinks.

After the film, you might not want much to eat, but TGI Fridays’ list of appetisers is vast.

Still worried about your image? You’ve got all of Regent Street to go shopping.