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Director Nicolas Winding Refn on the Horror and Beauty of The Neon Demon

Director Nicolas Winding Refn on the Horror and Beauty of The Neon Demon

Neon Demon

His new film is a modern fairy tale set in the fashion industry with all the makings of a cult classic.

Director Nicolas Winding Refn has a beautiful vision to die for. It takes a classic film formula and introduces a modern spirit of angst. We saw a taste of it in the 2011 noir thriller Drive with Ryan Gosling.

In his new movie, TheNeonDemon, he creates a stylized modern fairy tale set in the fashion industry. This fairy tale is less Disney and more Brothers Grimm with all the makings of a cult classic.

Elle Fanning stars as Jesse, a 16-year-old girl from a small town who escapes to Los Angeles with hopes of becoming a model. She has a rare beauty, and it's quickly clear that beauty means everything in this not-so-alternate reality. This beauty comes in the form of a gift but also a curse. With boyfriends, photographers, fashion designers, and desperate models trying to get close to her, who can she really trust?

Although the film is a tapestry of vibrant beauty, it introduces an element of horror that will make you squirm. What seems like an obvious scene of young infatuation is actually filled with ulterior motives and wicked intentions. Necrophilia, rape, and cannibalism possess these characters in their deadly struggle for an unattainable beauty and virtue.

neon demon

We recently caught up with writer and director Nicolas Winding Refn to talk about the horror and beauty of TheNeonDemon.

Out: TheNeonDemon features an amazing cast. How was it working with them to make this film come to life?

NicolasWindingRefn: I was very fortunate to work with some really amazing performers and as I shoot in chronological order, we were really able to go on a journey of discovery together. It was a true collaboration from start to finish.

These characters are really driven by a desire for beauty which definitely mirrors the fashion and film industries. As a writer and director, is it something you see firsthand?

I certainly can relate to the very beauty-obsessive culture that infiltrates everything around us, not just movies and fashion, but all entertainment avenues as well as real life. That is partly the reason why I wanted to do a horror film about beauty. It is a universal subject that on the one hand can be very shallow, but at the same time can be extremely complex.

What would you say to someone who might feel this film negatively depicts lesbians or women in general?

I certainly had no intention of depicting anyone negatively or positively. I'm more interested in the "grey area" because people are both good and bad. Human nature is very conflicted. The Ruby (Jena Malone) character, for example, is very fragile and fears rejection, and at the same time is all-consumed with a need for beauty, power and control. The necrophilia scene then, is not sapphic or even about sex, but it's about Ruby's eternal quest to get what she most longs for. I find women so much more interesting than men, which is why I chose to explore these themes using women as the focus of the film. The boyfriends then, become the "girlfriends" in the traditional storytelling sense.

The whole film is very visually stunning but then it takes a turn for the grotesque. Why such a shocking twist in the story?

I wanted to make a fairy tale so it needed both glamour and vulgarity in order to fulfill the birth of The Neon Demon.

You have a very artistic eye which is rare in film today. Do you find it difficult adapting your vision for mainstream audiences?

It doesn't feel difficult because there is such a wonderful new generation of cinema lovers who very much demand films not just to be entertainment, which is important, but also to be an experience.

What do you hope people take away from this film?

I believe the essence of creativity is the reaction and to me, that is the most important part of the experience. So as long as people react, then you know you have done something right.

TheNeonDemon hits theaters June 24. Watch the trailer below:

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