ENTER THE NEON DEMON
Director Nicolas Winding Refn peels back the layers of cannibal horror movie The Neon Demon...
Nicolas Winding Refn and Elle Fanning spill their secrets.
“It’s a teenage horror film for teenagers,” says Nicolas Winding Refn of his latest film, The Neon Demon. Think a cannibal movie directed by Helmut Lang and you’re some way to unpicking this bloody skewering of the fashion industry, a film that feasts on our global obsession with perfection in its story about 16-year-old LA newcomer Jesse (Elle Fanning), a wannabe model with a natural beauty that leaves all her peers envious.
“The world of fashion is so wonderful to manoeuvre,” says the Danish-born Refn (Only God Forgives). “In a way, it’s so campy and so ridiculous. But also it’s so beautiful and intoxicating, so it’s a very diverse world.” The cattle-calls, shown in the film, where girls are rejected or hired are “very evil and very disgusting,” he says. “You are just a piece of meat…[but] casting a movie is the same way. There’s something very sadistic about having power, especially over women from a male perspective.”
Now 18, Fanning was the same age as Jesse when the film was made. “Since we shot in chronological order, it was amazing,” she notes. “I could really track her literally turning into a complete narcissist. In the beginning, we talked about her as Dorothy from Wizard Of Oz – she’s plopped into this world and you don’t really know where she comes from but she’s innocent and wide-eyed, looking at these sparkly things.”
Needless to say, innocence turns to experience as she meets a worldly-wise make-up artist (Jena Malone) and two haughty models (Abbey Lee, Bella Heathcote) who, it seems, have a taste for blood. “It’s not the act of cannibalism that’s interesting – it’s what they consume,” says Refn. “And I thought it was very interesting that beauty
The world of fashion is so wonderful to manoeuvre. It’s so beautiful and intoxicating
will start consuming itself, because the perception and the obsession with beauty continues to skyrocket.”
Feeling like Refn’s second love-letter to Los Angeles after his 2011 cult crime tale Drive – “it’s such an incredible place to work,” he says – The Neon Demon takes on the city in much the way David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive did, as a seething hotbed of carnality. “For a while I thought LA was ‘the neon demon’ in a way because that city is so haunting but so enticing,” says Fanning. “It sucks you in but it will spit you out.”
Refn is rather hesitant to fully explain “The Neon Demon” – symbolised by a series of glowing triangles Jesse sees during a catwalk show. “I probably saw it in some [occultist] Aleister Crowley book I had,” he says. “And I was like, ‘Oh, that’s the sign of The Neon Demon’ – especially when it was in neon. There’s some kind of glow to that; an almost creature-like instinct to it. There’s something vulgar, there’s something glamorous about neon.”
Dubbed “a Robert Palmer video directed by Dario Argento” by one critic, it certainly has that feel of the Italian horror maestro in a dream scene where Keanu Reeves, playing the sleazy manager at Jesse’s motel, thrusts a knife into her throat. “Just having Keanu with a knife in someone’s throat is exciting,” says Refn. “Keanu’s the fucking best.” Just don’t accuse Refn of looking back. “I make films,” he says, “for the future.”
The Neon Demon opens on 8 July.
DON’T QUOTE ME “JOHN CARPENTER PREDICTED THE 21ST CENTuRY IN They Live WITH MORE ACCuRACY THAN THAT FRENCH APOTHECARY guY, NOSTRADAMuS.” guillermo del Toro is in love with the horror auteur.
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