The Neon Demon is a 2016 psychological horror[4] film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, co-written by Mary Laws, Polly Stenham, and Refn, and starring Elle Fanning. The plot follows an aspiring model in Los Angeles whose beauty and youth generate intense fascination and jealousy within the industry. Supporting roles are played by Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Karl Glusman, Christina Hendricks, and Keanu Reeves.

An international co-production between France, Denmark, and the United States, the film competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival,[5][6] the third consecutive film directed by Refn to do so, following Drive (2011) and Only God Forgives (2013). In the United States, the film was released theatrically on 24 June 2016 by Amazon Studios and Broad Green Pictures. It opened to polarized reviews and was a box office failure, grossing a little over $3 million from a $7 million budget.


Sixteen-year-old aspiring model Jesse (Elle Fanning) has just moved from small-town Georgia to Los Angeles. Her first photoshoot is done by Dean (Karl Glusman). She meets makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone), who introduces fellow older models Sarah (Abbey Lee) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote). The three women are intrigued by Jesse's natural beauty, as well as curious about her sexual proclivities. Jesse feigns experience in the latter.

Jesse gets signed by Roberta Hoffman (Christina Hendricks), the owner of a modelling agency, who tells her to pretend she is nineteen and refers her to a test shoot with a notable photographer, Jack McCarther (Desmond Harrington). Jesse goes on a date with Dean, but keeps his advances at bay. She returns to her motel room to find it ransacked and occupied by a feline resembling a cougar but roaring like a big cat. The unsavory manager, Hank (Keanu Reeves), demands that she pay for the damages. Jesse goes to the photo shoot with Jack, who calls for a closed set and covers her naked body in gold paint. The shoot is successful, and Gigi and Sarah begin envying Jesse's youth, while Ruby is fascinated with her.

Jesse goes to a casting call for fashion designer Robert Sarno (Alessandro Nivola), where Sarah is also present. He pays no attention to Sarah but is entranced by Jesse. A distraught Sarah flees into a bathroom and shatters the mirror with anger and when Jesse enters, Sarah asks her how it feels to be the one who everyone admires. Jesse admits, "It's everything." Sarah lunges toward her, and Jesse accidentally cuts her hand on glass. Sarah immediately sucks the blood from Jesse's hand. Jesse rushes back to her motel, and faints, hallucinating strange images. Dean arrives, pays Hank for the damage to her room, and treats Jesse's wound. During their short interchange, Hank reveals a sexually predatory streak, gleans Dean's unrequited interest in Jesse and tries to attract Dean's attention to a 13-year old runaway girl whose room may be next to Jesse's.

At Sarno's fashion show, Gigi tells Jesse about all the work she has had done, and expresses disbelief that Jesse has not used casting couches to achieve success. As Jesse is closing the show, she sees a vision of the glowing triangle she saw before in her hallucination, and kisses her reflection inside a prism. After the show, a visibly-changed Jesse goes out with Dean to a bar. There, Sarno denigrates women who have cosmetic surgery, using a humiliated Gigi as an example. In contrast, he praises Jesse's natural looks and declares that "beauty isn't everything; it's the only thing." Dean challenges this view and tries to convince Jesse to leave, but she rejects him, now displaying a narcissistic new persona.

Jesse has a nightmare of Hank forcing her to sexually swallow a knife. She wakes up in time to hear someone fidgeting with her door lock. She quickly turns the lock, but is forced to listen as the intruder instead breaks into her neighbor's room and assaults her. Terrified, she calls Ruby, who tells her to come over. Ruby then tries to initiate sex with her, but Jesse rejects her, revealing herself to be a virgin in the process. Upset, Ruby draws a diagram on her mirror and leaves for her second job as a makeup artist for a morgue. There, she pleasures herself with a female corpse.

Ruby returns home and finds Jesse now unabashed in her narcissism. Jesse is attacked by Gigi and Sarah, who chase her with knives. Ruby suddenly pushes Jesse into a huge empty swimming pool. Jesse is fatally wounded, her leg broken, her head gushing blood. The three women approach her with knives. Ruby is then seen in a bath full of Jesse's blood; Sarah and Gigi are washing blood off in the shower. The next day, Ruby's topless body shows occult tattoos as she waters flowers outside and washes Jesse's blood off the pool. She later lies in Jesse's unmarked grave as part of a ritual that culminates in her moonlit living room, when a torrent of blood gushes from Ruby's genitals.

The next day, Sarah drives Gigi to Jack's photoshoot. Sarah nonchalantly states to the other model scheduled to be in the shoot that she once ate a girl who "screw[ed her] out of a job", visibly disturbing Gigi. Jack is suddenly enthralled with Sarah and asks her to replace the other model, to which she agrees with a knowing smile. In the midst of the shoot, Gigi feels ill and leaves. Sarah follows her and watches Gigi vomit up one of Jesse's eyeballs. She screams with regret, "I need to get her out of me", and stabs her own stomach with a pair of scissors, cutting open her abdomen. Sarah watches Gigi die, drools, eats the regurgitated eyeball and leaves to return to the set.



File:Nicolas Winding Refn Cannes 2016.jpg

On 3 November 2014, Refn's production company Space Rocket Nation alongside its co-financiers Gaumont Film Company and Wild Bunch announced that Refn's next film would be titled The Neon Demon, to be filmed in Los Angeles in early 2015.[7]

In January 2015, Dazed reported that the script for the film was inspired by Elizabeth Báthory.[8] In discussing the script, which Refn co-wrote with Mary Laws, he stated: "I decided that I’d made enough films about violent men, and I wanted to do a film with only women in the film, and so I did this story because my wife would only go to L.A. if we had to travel out of Copenhagen. She’s like, ‘I’m done with Asia. I will only do Los Angeles.’ And so I came up with an idea and went to L.A., and I cast this woman called Elle Fanning who is absolutely fantastic, and she played the lead."[9]


File:Elle Fanning Cannes 2016 2.jpg

On 6 January 2015, Elle Fanning joined the film to play an aspiring model, caught in a world of beauty and demise.[10] On 29 January, Abbey Lee Kershaw was added to the cast to play the role of Sarah.[11] On 5 February, more cast was added to the film, including Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks, Jena Malone and Bella Heathcote.[12] On 17 March 2015, Karl Glusman was set to star in the film.[13] Desmond Harrington was added to the cast on 30 March 2015.[14]


Principal photography on the film began in Los Angeles on 30 March 2015.[15][16]


Composer Cliff Martinez, who collaborated with director Refn on Drive, stated the films have similar styles, musically speaking, noting that for The Neon Demon he sought a "sparse electronic score."[17] He stated in an interview that the first half of the film resembles "a melodrama like Valley of the Dolls, and the second half is like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre."[17] The soundtrack is strongly reminiscent of '70s and '80s electronic music, especially (by Refn's and Martinez's own admission[18][19][20]) Giorgio Moroder, Goblin, Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream.

The soundtrack for the film was released on 24 June 2016, physically and through digital download, before being released on vinyl on 8 July 2016, by Milan Records.[21] Sia composed an original song for the film titled "Waving Goodbye".[22] On 24 May 2016 at the Cannes Soundtrack 2016 awards, Cliff Martinez was recognised best composer of the Cannes film festival for his soundtrack to The Neon Demon.[23]


In November 2015, Amazon Studios acquired distribution rights to the film in the United States,[24] in partnership with Broad Green Pictures.[25] The Jokers will distribute the film in France.[24] Scanbox Entertainment distributed the film in Denmark.[26]

The film had its world premiere at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival on 20 May 2016,[5][6][27] before it was released in France on 8 June 2016.[28] The film was then released in Denmark on 9 June,[26] followed by the United States on 24 June 2016.[29][30][31]

The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray on 27 September 2016.

Critical response

The Neon Demon received a mixed response from critics. Much like Refn's previous film, Only God Forgives, the film received both boos and a standing ovation during its premiere at Cannes Film Festival.[32][33] It holds a 57% approval rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 211 reviews, with an average rating of 5.9/10. The site's consensus reads, "The Neon Demon is seductively stylish, but Nicolas Winding Refn's assured eye can't quite compensate for an underdeveloped plot and thinly written characters."[34] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 51 out of 100, based on 45 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[35]

Robbie Collin of The Daily Telegraph gave the film five out of five stars, stating, "When the film reaches its logical end point, Refn just keeps pushing, and eventually lands on a sequence so jaw-dropping – almost certainly a sly, glossy-magazine refashioning of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali's groundbreaking surrealist short Un Chien Andalou – that all you can do is howl or cheer."[36] Tirdad Derakhshani, writing for The Philadelphia Inquirer, called Refn a "bold visionary artist... able to revel in the culture of instant gratification while also subjecting it to critique", giving the film three and a half out of four stars and calling it a "brutal masterpiece".[37] Rene Rodriguez of The Miami Herald wrote positively of the film's visuals and experimental filmmaking, writing, "To complain that The Neon Demon lacks substance or that it doesn't have anything to say about our cultural obsession with beauty is to miss the crazy, cracked pageant unfolding in front of you. Not all movies are intended to be read like books; some are meant to be experienced," going on to call it a "film that is guaranteed to elicit strong reactions." He awarded the film three out of four stars.[38]

Owen Gleiberman of Variety gave the film a mixed review: "A horror film is what The Neon Demon is (sort of). It’s set in the Los Angeles fashion world, and it’s the kind of movie in which models look like mannequins that look like slasher-film corpses, and corpses look like love objects. Beauty mingles with mangled flesh, and each fastidiously slick image seems to have come out of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me or The Shining or a very sick version of a Calvin Klein commercial. Every scene, every shot, every line of dialogue, every pause is so hypnotically composed, so luxuriously overdeliberate, that the audience can't help but assume that Refn knows exactly what he's doing – that he's setting us up for the kill. He is, but not if you're on the lookout for a movie that makes sense. (Oh, that.)"[39] Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter gave the film a negative review and called it "A stultifyingly vapid, ponderously paced allegorical critique of the modeling world whose seethingly jealous inhabitants can't wait to literally chew each other up and spit each other out". Glenn Kenny of The New York Times criticized the film as "ridiculous and puerile," and opined, "Mr. Refn composes striking images, but they're all secondhand: faux Fellini, faux David Lynch and so on."[40]

The prestigious French film magazine Cahiers du cinéma named The Neon Demon the third-best film of 2016.[41]

See also


  1. "The Neon Demon (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 6 June 2016. Retrieved 6 June 2016. 
  2. Leigh, Danny (12 May 2016). "'Movie blood tastes so good' – on The Neon Demon set with Nicolas Winding Refn". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 May 2016. 
  3. "The Neon Demon". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 6 December 2016. 
  4. Tallerico, Brian. "A Horror Film About Beauty: Nicolas Winding Refn & Elle Fanning on "The Neon Demon" - Interviews - Roger Ebert". 
  5. 5.0 5.1 "2016 Cannes Film Festival Announces Lineup". IndieWire. Retrieved 14 April 2016. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Cannes 2016: Film Festival Unveils Official Selection Lineup". Variety. Retrieved 14 April 2016. 
  7. "Nordisk Film & TV Fond :: Nicolas Winding Refn Readies Danish/French Horror Tale". Retrieved 20 January 2015. 
  8. Taylor, Trey (January 2015). "Five things we know about Nicolas Winding Refn's new film". Dazed. Retrieved 12 April 2016. 
  9. Shaw-Williams, H. (7 September 2015). "Nicolas Winding Refn on The Neon Demon's Female-Dominated Cast". Screen Rant. Retrieved 17 December 2015. 
  10. Sneider, Jeff (6 January 2015). "Elle Fanning to Star in Nicolas Winding Refn's Horror Movie 'Neon Demon' (Exclusive)". Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  11. Fleming Jr, Mike (29 January 2015). "Nicolas Winding Refn Sets Abbey Lee To Star In 'Neon Demon'". Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  12. Keslassy, Elsa (5 February 2015). "Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks Join Cast of Nicolas Refn's 'The Neon Demon'". Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  13. Kroll, Justin (17 March 2015). "Karl Glusman Signs With WME; Joins Nic Refn's 'The Neon Demon'". Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  14. McNary, Dave (30 March 2015). "Desmond Harrington Joins Elle Fanning in 'Neon Demon'". Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  15. "On the Set for 3/30/15: Brad Pitt, Christian Bale & Ryan Gosling Start on 'The Big Short', Julianne Moore Wraps 'Maggie's Plan' & More". 30 March 2015. Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  16. Lesnick, Silas (30 March 2015). "Production Begins on Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon". Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 Miska, Brad (15 March 2016). "'The Neon Demon' Is 'Valley of the Dolls' Meets 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'?!". Bloody-Disgusting. Retrieved 16 April 2016. 
  18. "Nicolas Winding Refn, Vinyl Curator". The New York Times. 20 May 2015. 
  19. Martinez, Cliff (23 June 2016). "Nicolas Winding Refn And Cliff Martinez Talk THE NEON DEMON". 
  20. "'Drive' Composer Cliff Martinez on Writing the Most Fire Film Score of 2016". 
  21. Jaugernauth, Kevin (12 April 2016). "Full Soundtrack Details Revealed For Nicolas Winding Refn's 'The Neon Demon,' Summer Release Scheduled". Retrieved 18 April 2016. 
  22. Evangelista, Chris (12 April 2016). "Soundtrack Details and Release Date Info for Nicholas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon Revealed". Cut Print Film. Retrieved 18 April 2016. 
  23. "Cliff Martinez – Best composer of Cannes Soundtrack 2016 | Cannessoundtrack". Retrieved 25 May 2016. 
  24. 24.0 24.1 Evry, Max (9 November 2015). "Amazon Acquires The Neon Demon, Plus New Elle Fanning Image". Retrieved 10 November 2015. 
  25. Hipes, Patrick (10 May 2016). "Amazon's 'The Neon Demon' U.S. Release Date Set As Broad Green Comes Aboard". Retrieved 10 May 2016. 
  26. 26.0 26.1 "The Neon Demon". Scanbox Entertainment. Retrieved 4 May 2016. 
  27. "Screenings Guide – 2016 Cannes Film Festival" (PDF). 16 May 2016. 
  28. Hayes, Britt (10 April 2016). "'The Neon Demon' Reveals New Image and Fantastic Posters From Nicolas Winding Refn's Latest". Retrieved 4 May 2016. 
  29. Staff, Variety (14 April 2016). "'Neon Demon' Trailer: First Look at Nicolas Winding Refn's Horror Film". Variety. Retrieved 18 April 2016. 
  30. Lowman, Rob (28 April 2016). "See all the 2016 summer movies". Retrieved 29 April 2016. 
  31. D'Alessandro, Anthony (25 June 2016). "'Dory' Swallows 'Resurgence'; 'Shallows' Rides $16M Wave; 'Free State of Jones' & 'Neon Demon' Wounded". Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved 26 June 2016. 
  32. Nordine, Michael. "'The Neon Demon' First Reactions: Walkouts, Yelling at the Screen and a Five-Star Review in Cannes". Indiewire. Retrieved 21 May 2016. 
  33. Barkan, Jonathan (19 May 2016). "'The Neon Demon' Was Booed at Cannes". Retrieved 19 May 2016. 
  34. "The Neon Demon (2016)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 13 July 2016. 
  35. "The Neon Demon reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 7 July 2016. 
  36. "The Neon Demon's jaw-dropping depravity leaves Cannes reeling – review". Retrieved 2 July 2016. 
  37. "'Neon Demon': Elle Fanning mesmerizes in brutal masterpiece". Retrieved 2 July 2016. 
  38. "We need to talk about 'The Neon Demon' (R)". Retrieved 2 July 2016. 
  39. Gleiberman, Owen (19 May 2016). "Cannes Film Review: 'The Neon Demon'". Retrieved 21 May 2016. 
  40. Kenny, Glenn (23 June 2016). "Review: In 'The Neon Demon,' Beauty Masks a Rotting Core". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 June 2016. 
  41. Raup, Jordan (29 November 2016). "Cahiers du cinéma's Top 10 Films of 2016 Includes 'Toni Erdmann,' 'Elle,' and 'The Neon Demon'". The Film Stage. Retrieved 30 November 2016. 

External links

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