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Film / The Neon Demon

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"Beauty isn't everything. It's the only thing."
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A 2016 psychological thriller directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, with a screenplay by Mary Laws & Polly Stenham. Elle Fanning stars as a young aspiring model who is drawn into a vicious world of danger and beauty. Also has Keanu Reeves and Jena Malone along with Desmond Harrington as Jack, a very established fashion photographer.


The Neon Demon provides examples of:

  • Amateur Photographer: Dean is called this when Roberta Hoffman interviews Jesse.
  • And Starring: Keanu Reeves.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: In the restaurant, Dean and the fashion designer argues about beauty. Earlier, Dean insisted to Jesse that there was more to her than her looks. In the restaurant, Dean challenges the fashion designer's claim that beauty is all that matters (and gives the above-cited quote). The fashion designer then asks Dean if he would be interested in Jesse if she did not look the way she does. This leaves Dean in an uncomfortable silence and asks Jesse if they can leave.
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  • Attempted Rape: Ruby attempts this with Jesse and gets physically shoved off the bed. Unfortunately, successful with Hank's attempt on the 13-year-old girl in room 214.
  • Attention Whore: Sarah, to murderous levels.
  • Bait-and-Switch: A favorite trick of the movie, especially in its first half - the film likes to suggest that something sinister is going on, only to reveal it's a relatively mundane happening (with no accounting for creepiness). This is best shown with Dean, who is introduced in intimidating shots and gives a very dark impression, only to be revealed that he's an innocent kid.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Subverted with Gigi and Sarah but played straight with Jesse.
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  • Blood Bath: Ruby, Sarah, and Gigi murder Jesse, a beautiful and virginal young woman, and not only bathe in her blood but cannibalize her as well. The director and co-writer said he was directly inspired by the tales of Elizabeth Bathory.
  • The Cameo: Nicolas Winding Refn's wife Liv Corfixen (who the film is dedicated to) is one of the guests at the restaurant. Christina Hendricks serves as a slightly longer example of this.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The door to Jessie's motel room. The fact that it is difficult to open gives Jessie the time to double lock it to prevent a rapist from getting in.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Ruby's second job as a mortician, which might have come in handy when she later mutilates Jessie and disposes of her corpse.
  • Color Motif: A lot of blues and reds are used in the early part of the film, so much so, that media outlets remarked about it. Director Refn frequently saturates scenes with a single color of light in his films because he is colorblind.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Dean follows the trend of Refn's male characters.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Another NWR staple. Jessie wakes up to see Hank forcing a knife deeper and deeper into her mouth before she suddenly wakes up revealing it was a dream. Then Hank (or someone else) comes to the door for real, and Jessie is able to preemptively lock her door.
  • Fairest of Them All: This seems to be the general reaction to Jessie. Like Snow White, this comes with consequences.
    Ruby: She's got that... thing.
  • Fan Disservice: A lot of the scenes that would be normally sexy are treated with this and it makes the tension and atmosphere far more suffocating as a result.
  • Fashion Model: Obviously but Gigi, Sarah, and Jesse all serve as examples.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Ruby. Upon first meeting her, she appears to be sweet and helpful, then towards the last quarter of the film, we learn that this was a facade and that she's really a complete monster in reality.
  • From Bad to Worse: After rejecting Dean and almost getting raped by Hank, Jesse runs to Ruby, who's her last friend. Then both we and Jesse realize how screwed up Ruby really is...
  • Gainax Ending: Jesse gets eaten, Ruby lies naked in the moonlight and menstruates a flood of blood, Gigi throws up Jesse's eye and commits harakiri with scissors to get "Jesse out of her" and Sarah proceeds to eat said eye. Yeah...
  • Gorn: Typically for a Refn film used for shock value and grotesque.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Played straight with Jesse's death falling into the empty pool but subverted with Sarah eating the vomited up eyeball.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: From a melodrama about a young girl being swallowed by the fashion industry into a surreal horror full of cannibals, necrophiles and scorned lesbians.
  • House of Broken Mirrors: The scene where Jesse meets Sarah in the ruined bathroom, after her Rage Against the Reflection.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Ruby, Gigi and Sarah proceed to eat Jesse and bathe in her blood.
  • Informed Attractiveness: Jessie is frequently described as beautiful. The plot is driven by her being unusually attractive even for a fashion model.
  • The Ingenue: Jessie appears to be a sweet, delicate, unworldly girl. But as we find out, she can also be dangerous.
  • I Love the Dead: Somewhat arguable as it's treated as much with a masturbatory fantasy on the part of Ruby after being rejected by Jesse.
  • Jerkass: Quite a few. Sarah, Gigi, Hank, Jack McCarther, Robert Sarno. And most definitely, Ruby.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The implied ease and readiness that Ruby, Gigi, and Sarah had in killing and eating Jesse, along with what transpires afterward at least with Sarah and Ruby gives a slight bit of supernatural cadence to an otherwise straight arthouse horror film. Also teased earlier in the film when Sarah goes so far as to lick the blood from Jesse's cut hand in the bathroom.
    • Although the scene with Ruby's full moon ritual in which she menstruates an improbable amount of blood as well as her sporting occult tattoos on her chest definitely seems to push the movie into a more supernatural angle. However, given that the movie plays with hallucinations and dreams, it could certainly just be a fantasy she's having.
  • Morality Pet: Dean to Jessie. When she casts him aside and he leaves, everything goes downhill for her.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: As the film's ending displays, Gigi was clearly unable to stomach what she did to Jessie.
  • My Parents Are Dead: This partly explains why Jesse is in Los Angeles in the first place.
  • No Historical Figures Were Harmed: Refn was apparently inspired by the story of Elizabeth Bathory when writing the script. You can definitely see shades of this in the way Ruby resolves her unhealthy obsession with Jessie.
  • Not Good with Rejection: Ruby, to say the least.
  • Proud Beauty: What's it feel like, you walk into a room, and it's like in the middle of winter and you're the sun?
  • Psycho Lesbian: Ruby. Between nearly raping Jesse to the necrophilia, she definitely has some screws loose.
  • Rage Against the Reflection: After being completely ignored by the fashion designer, Sarah crushes a large mirror after looking at herself for a long while.
  • Rage Breaking Point: Happens to Ruby when Jesse rejects her sexual advances towards her.
  • Rape as Drama:
    • Hank sneaks into Jesse's room and molests her with a knife. It turns out to be a premonition and she manages to lock the door. Instead, Hank goes to the new girl and rapes her. The new girl is 13.
    • Then right after this, Jessie is nearly raped by her friend, Ruby.
  • Random Events Plot: The already sketchy plot ultimately collapses halfway through and turns the film into a collection of random scenes with less and less relationship between each of them.
  • Older Than They Look: Jesse is told to lie and say that she is 19 despite being 16 years old.
  • Only Sane Man: Dean is the only character who is remotely normal.
  • Signature Style: Strong use of primary colors. The main colors are blue and purple, with Refn's beloved red being less used. When it's used, it's with a vengeance.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The scenes towards the end with the empty swimming pool are very similar to the ending shot of Milo's empty pool in Pusher 3.
    • Hank calls a girl he intends to pimp out, "real Lolita shit".
    • The runaway scene is done in the style of Kenneth Anger's Lucifer Rising.
    • Ruby uses "Red Rum" lipstick, in reference to The Shining.
  • Spiritual Successor: Surprisingly, to Bronson. Jesse's speech about why she wanted to become a model is eerily similar to the opening speech in Bronson.
  • Stress Vomit: Happens to Gigi after she helps eat Jesse.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: After her success at the fashion show, Jesse becomes vain and superficial, her transition symbolized by the hallucination scene.
  • Virgin Power: Suggested in increasingly unsettling ways with Jessie.
  • Visual Pun: By the end of the film, the modeling world has literally chewed Jessie up and spit her out.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: A female example with Ruby. Subverted in that it is not at all fanservicey. Ruby's chest and arms turn out to be covered in crude occult tattoos, and she's washing away Jessie's blood with a hose.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Is Jesse's body still buried? Do the police get involved after Gigi's death?
  • Woman Scorned: Ruby apparently doesn't know the meaning of the word "no". It ultimately leads to her performing Death by Woman Scorned on Jessie.
  • World of Jerkass: Every character except the boyfriend is a Jerkass. See Jerkass and Took a Level in Jerkass for more information.
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