By Frazer MacDonald
Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon was premiered at HOME, Manchester this week with an event that included a Q&A session with the director himself. The film opens with a shot of Elle Fanning reclining on a couch, her throat appearing to have been cut. It ends with a series of shots of what looks like the Nevada Desert. What happens in between those two things is hard to explain. When the audience left HOME – the first cinema in the UK to have a public screening of the film – the film had obviously had a profound impact.
The film was introduced by Jason Wood, Artistic Director of Cinema at HOME. The plot is complicated. Sixteen-year-old Jesse, played by Fanning, arrives in L.A with no job and a boyfriend who we soon find out has taken some modelling shots of her. A couple of scenes later she joins a modelling agency, and from then on the film becomes something which is partly a coming of age story, partly a slasher flick, and partly a tale of moral corruption similar to The Canyons or Mulholland Drive, only imbued with Refn’s signature hyper-colourful style. The result is a film which falls somewhere between the two in terms of quality. Although The Neon Demon is not entirely an exploitation film, it seems pretty clear that Refn has taken influence from the genre, just as he has in the past. It is also clear that this film, featuring a brilliant cameo performance by Keanu Reeves as a barbaric motel owner, is one which demands that you watch it more than once before you decide whether it’s good or not.
After the film ended, Jason was joined by the film’s director Nicholas Winding Refn for a brief Q&A.
“I just make films based on what I would like to see,” Refn said when asked what inspired him to make the film, his relaxed directorial style also apparent as he interacted with the audience.
Another member of the audience asked about the casting of Elle Fanning as Jesse. Refn said, “It was almost like a Noir film – that’s her.”
Overall, it is clear that The Neon Demon fits well into Refn’s filmography. It’s a hyper-stylised, hyper-violent, unique horror film which, much like Refn’s 2011 film Drive, examines some of the darker aspects of human nature, and does so with a lot of verve.
The film next showing of the film at HOME is on Friday 8th July onwards, forming part of a season of films curated by Nicholas Winding Refn. For more information about this and other upcoming films, see the HOME website.