Nicolas Winding Refn cannot make a movie without critics and audiences putting it under a microscope, and The Neon Demon, a genre thriller set in the fashion world in Los Angeles, is no exception. After screening at Cannes and receiving a mixed reception, infamous Cannes “boos” included, curiosity about the film has grown. Nerdist had the chance to visit the set of Refn’s latest back in 2015 and even then during production, it was a challenge to get a handle on what exactly this movie would be. Now, having seen the film twice, I can affirm that The Neon Demon is hard to explain but I think that’s because, like all good genre movies, the experience will be different for every person who sees it. And I, personally, love it.
“I usually make movies about violent men,” Refn says while we sit down to dinner as the sun sets on a night shoot. “I felt that it was time, I needed to do something different, especially after Only God Forgives because, you know, what’s the one thing that no one would expect, [it] was to do a movie with a sixteen year-old girl.”
Speaking of violent men, Reeves, a supporting player in the film admits his character is definitely one. “I’m a motel manager, so Elle’s character, Jesse, stays in a motel and I am the lord, I mean, the manager of the place. I’m kind of like a witness to a certain section [of her life]. I’m a gatekeeper, I’m someone to get past, I’m someone who has his own way of doing things. Almost in a weird way, as Jesse kind of carves herself, sharpens herself, her character is revealed to a certain extent by my character.”
Without giving too much away, The Neon Demon focuses on Jesse, played by Elle Fanning. She is flanked by other women in the fashion industry, a make-up artist played by Jena Malone, and two models who have been in the game longer than her, played by Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee. If movies like Drive and Only God Forgives were about violent men, The Neon Demon is an exploration of a more feminine kind of violence which may sound soft, but as audience will find, can be just as ruthless if not more so.
Women are all over this movie, including the films’ co-writers, Mary Laws and Polly Stenham, and Refn’s incredible cinematographer, Natasha Braier. While I would argue all day that The Neon Demon is very much a movie of substance, it is also visually stunning. Braier was an integral part of the making of this movie, with Refn explaining, “I thought it was important to have a woman [cinematographer] since the film had so many women to be photographed,” he says. “Women take time. I’m like, can we just hurry up? No, no, no, no, no…”
Ambitious on all levels, in addition to the gorgeous visuals and malleable dialogue, The Neon Demon was going to be a challenge for another reason. “I shoot in chronological order,” Refn tells us. “What it does is it allows complete control to morph, because the film will essentially change radically. I don’t know where it’s going. Yesterday morning I woke up and I was like, the movie’s got to end differently. And that gives me that freedom.”
The Neon Demon, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, starring Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, and Keanu Reeves, is in theaters Friday, June 24, 2016.
Images Courtesy of Amazon Studios