The Neon Demon Film Analysis


Valentina Figueroa-Sanford '23, Writer

Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2016 The Neon Demon, is one of the most confusing and intriguing horror movies published in the last few years. This movie is not one that you would characterize as a great movie. The film has an audience rating of 59% on Rotten Tomatoes, and a 6.1/10 on IMBd. With a budget of $7 million, it only grossed  $3.4 million in box office revenue. Watching this movie for the first time, the only thing that gives it a chance of being good is its artistic style, specifically the design of the movie and the fashion highlighted through the film. The film attempts to create a more stylish version of the psychological thriller genre. Rather than being flat-out horrifying, the film evokes a sense of anxiety and unease throughout the entire movie, to the point where the audience is unsure if some events are even happening in real-time. Though the film was unsuccessful, its initial idea holds more significant power. 

Behind the weird and somewhat twisted storyline is a discussion about the darker side of the fashion industry. When I first watched the film, I had no idea what was going on, so I watched again and then read an article explaining the plot and the ending. In the midst of its confusion, the film uses colors and light throughout the story to further emphasize the feelings within. Nothing genuinely positive happens at any point in the story. Even when you think a scene might be normal or it feels as though it could be going in a positive direction, there is always a sense of unease throughout the scenes. This feeling is partially because of the actor’s attitude and demeanor, but primarily because of the colors and light. Even the bright colors have a neon aspect that makes every situation seem uncomfortable to a certain extent. For example: in one scene, the characters are in a bathroom at a club, and the pairing of colors and the scene’s composition makes a normal feeling situation uneasy and nerve-racking. The neon purples and blues paired with the demeanor of the actresses create a feeling of unease as they talk in the bathroom of a party. Along with the feelings of anxiety, the colors also add to the uncertainty of what is real or not throughout the movie. 

Another scene uses lights, color, and mirrors to create an even more “trippy” and uneasy feeling as you watch the scene. 

In stark contrast, some scenes are filmed with an incredibly apparent absence of color, which contributes to the film’s depth and story in parallel to the intensely saturated shots. Some scenes appear to be bleak or dull but have the same amount of unease, this time due to its lack of color. 

In this scene, the main character is “auditioning” to get a modeling job. This is one of the least colorful scenes in the movie. She is wearing white, and the girls that were previously around her are all wearing nude colors or white. The lights are bright colorless, and the room she is in is entirely white. This scene is awkward and uncomfortable to watch. The uniformity of the colors the girls are wearing along with the colors of the set in this particular scene emphasizes the impacts of the modeling industry. In some ways, this scene is a way to display the pressure on the women in the film to be perfect in the same way. 

In simple explanations, the film is about narcissism and jealousy created by the ideals of an extremely messed up industry. The rest of the film follows a string of events leading the main character, Jesse, down a path of self-obsession, ultimately leading to her death by three other models. The film is violent and bloody for a large portion towards the end, but this is done with purpose. The violence and grit of the film are used as a way of explaining the way industries consume the people within them. The three models can be thought of as symbols of envy, jealousy, and their extremes. In an explanation of the film, one author stated “In The Neon Demon, we’re shown many men in the light of being predators, but ultimately, it’s the women that prey on Jesse.” It is an interesting point to consider that rather than focusing on the predatory side of the industry, the film’s director Refn chooses to focus further on the ideas of narcissism and competition. 

The film follows a confusing and violent path in order to get its point across. Though this may not have been successful in the final production, the ideas behind the film are interesting to consider.