The Neon Demon

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn (2016) BBFC cert. 18

Catwalk models will kill to keep their place at the top of the fashion food chain in this boldly provocative and pale skinned horror show.

Taut performances combine with an uncompromising visual style which is underpinned by a techno score. The recurring presence of big cats and the slow glide of the camera create a sense of a victim being stalked.

There are images of bondage and an emphasis on reducing people to sinew, muscle, bone, hair and lipgloss.

Elle Fanning stars as ambitious model Jesse who arrives on the bitchy and backstabbing  LA fashion scene. She lives in a cheap motel whose seedy motel owner Hank is played by a brilliantly seedy Keanu Reeves.

Christina Hendricks previously appeared in Refn’s Drive (2011) is here as a modelling agent who archly dispenses euphemistic career advice. Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote are conspiratorial and competitive fellow models.

In order to succeed Jesse chooses to immerse herself in the exploitative world of photographers, agents and make-up artists.

She adopts an emotional mask for protection from recurrent threats of rejection and rape. But this also creates a barrier to our sympathies and engagement.

Glossy and reflective surfaces reflects the empty narcissism of the LA inhabitants and the pristine environs suggest the sci-fi world of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

The short shelf life of a models career recalls the limited timespan of the living mannequins of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), as well as the youth obsessed society of Logan’s Run (1976).

Similar to its blank eyed protagonists, The Neon Demon obsesses over its own sleekly manicured surfaces, making it a film hard to get to grips with.

@ChrisHunneysett

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