It’s October so it’s time for Weirder Tides! Running down my list of favorite horror flicks, warning now that some of the movies and tv shows we will be discussing carry heavy themes and strong visuals.
Oh and of course spoilers!
Discussing 2016’s psychological horror The Neon Demon ( Directed By Nicolas Winding Refn and co-written by Mary Laws, Polly Stenham, and Nicolas Winding Refn) is something kind of hard to do with a person not completely into the genre of horror. No it doesn’t sport a ton of gore (though arguably the bit of blood and guts it shows off in the end could be questioned by non horror fans.). No, the film’s unease and therefore horror, comes from the situation of the main character Jesse. Like most psychological horror movies it toys with the viewers expectations of Jesse’s fate amongst a both real and surreal world.
The movie follows 16 year Old Jesse moving from a small town to Los Angeles in the pursuit of a modeling career. She is bit naive and innocent due to both her age and upbringing, and because of that she is taken under the guidance of older models Sarah, Ruby, and Gigi. The older women (and everyone else in the film) remark how beautiful Jesse is, and how indeed she is a perfect natural beauty. That fact that Jesse is a pure beauty is the driving force behind the film, with the world of modelings response being where the narrative push comes. The film has her succeeding but also under threat because of the purity of her beauty. Her inate ability to appeal to everyone eventually leads to the innocent Jesse becoming the embodiment of narcissism, realizing that her beauty is indeed dangerous to everyone around her and diving into it, ultimately leading to her being devoured by the industry (thats important for later and also a clever joke setup for down the line). She was actually was being groomed by the three older women who for all purposes make up a coven of witches. Feeding into Jesse’s’ ego and plaguing her with a traumatic vision where she would be sexually assaulted with a knife by her landlord, the three women push Jesse to not just trust them but fall deeper into the world of modeling. This ultimately leads to the finale where her devour by the industry is literal. The three women stab Jesse, and carve away at her, consuming her literally (Boom the devour comment was now a dumb joke).
So like I noted in the title (if my planning came to fruition), the themes and horror from this comes from the preying on and grooming of Jesse, as well as the constant danger of the casting couch culture that many note that industries like modeling and acting have. Her transformation into the neon demon is predictable, while her consumption by her fellow models (or more so the industry) can be seen as more than just symbolism and can be noted as a reference to infamous serial killing noble Elizabeth Bathory. Bathory was a Hungarian noble woman who tortured and murdered at least 650 young women. Following her eventual imprisonment and death 5 years following that, rumors and stories spread of how she performed the murders to gather the blood of young women to bath and drink. While her cannibalism is believed to be nothing more but story fluff, many have taken it as a part of the prolific Bathory’s crimes and purpose. Neon Demon is that with a bit of magic added on, because undoubtedly their act of magical cannibalism and even group blood shower works, and the coven of models (which is something I never thought I would have to say alongside magical cannibalism) begin to exude the beauty that Jesse had. They even manage to pull high level modeling gigs.
This doesn’t end completely well for them as Gigi can’t stomach Jesse down, retching up a eye. She carves away at herself with a knife in order to “get her out” resulting in her death. Sarah who is present doesn’t even bat a eye, opting to instead eat the bit of Jesse her friend threw up.
So… Neon Demon.. I love this movie. It is subversive and eerie. it could have easily have just been another industry drama about the price of fame and moving up in a harsh and vain career. The movie sets itself like that, but slowly introduces more. A mountain lion somehow entering Jesse’s room (it might be one of the women in cat form is what I reasoned), prophetic dreams, meetings under moon light, cupping moon symbols, there is even a portion that has Ruby attempt to seduce Jesse who turns her down, so Ruby instead decides to pleasure herself using a corpse at her day job at a morgue.
This pursuit of Jesse and thus acceptance, natural beauty, and youth is in this world the most important thing. Te very name of neon demon is a great alluding to that. Something fiendish feed on being seen because they themselves shine in a way where people just cant look. Like Jesse says at the end…