Summary: Rotten Tomatoes

Jesse moves to Los Angeles just after her 16th birthday to launch a career as a model. The head of her agency tells the innocent teen that she has the qualities to become a top star. Jesse soon faces the wrath of ruthless vixens who despise her fresh-faced beauty. On top of that, she must contend with a seedy motel manager and a creepy photographer. As Jesse starts to take the fashion world by storm, her personality changes in ways that could help her against her cutthroat rivals.

Nerd Corner:

What was the director’s intent?

  • “[My wife Liv] was the idea behind the film. Two years ago, I woke up depressed one morning. I wasn’t born beautiful, but my wife was. And I thought, “I wonder what it’d be like to have been born beautiful.” And of course, there’s a sixteen-year-old girl in every man. This is a way to do my version of her. It made sense going from Drive, which was the height of masculinity, and my own fetishization of a hero, and even Only God Forgives, where Ryan’s character is my own male obsession deconstructing itself and emasculating itself, trying to crawl back into the womb of the mother. And now, I am reborn as a sixteen-year old girl. In the end, beauty was what I was making a film about, and the only person I knew around me who was beautiful was my wife” 
  • “Neon Demon is about beauty, which is written off by many people as being superficial. But generally people have a very complicated relationship to beauty, because it’s really about themselves — your own vanity, how you see yourself, narcissism. Elle [Fanning] and I wanted to make a horror film for a teenage audience about a theme that for them is much more advanced than what we’re used to. You and I were brought up to think of narcissism as a taboo, something negative. My kids’ generation, Elle’s generation, sees it as a virtue. That is so fascinating, and complex. The meaning is so clear, but how crazy is it that this is the way that it’s moved?” (Refn as quoted in Sciretta, 2016).
  • “You have to look at the three women: You have Abbey Lee, who’s external beauty, Bella Heathcoate is a woman who tries to recreate beauty artificially, and then you have Jena Malone—who’s all about inner beauty, virginity, and innocence. Beauty is one of the most complex subjects we have within this world, because you have to look within yourself” (Refn as quoted in Sciretta, 2016).

So we heard from Refn, let’s dig into what it actually comes across as for us!

  • “The film also takes shots at celebrity/fame culture, but pushing aside the earlier predatory male character in favor of a “women eat each other alive, but literally” story makes it fall short for me…female competition and the ways in which they’re pitted against each other are a real problem, but prioritizing Sarah and Gigi’s jealousy and making them the main villains is something else. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have an unnecessary and out-of-place dream scene where Keanu Reeves is slowly and gratuitously forcing Elle Fanning to deep-throat a knife and then critique the sexualization of young girls!” (Jao, 2016)
  • The male gaze, as expanded on by Laura Mulvey
  • Ways of Seeing, Berger- “The mirror was often used as a symbol of the vanity of woman. The moralizing, however, was mostly hypocritical. You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, you put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting “Vanity”, thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure.” (from Ways of Seeing)
  • The Bechdel Test, The Mako Mori Test, The Sexy Lamp Test

Kate’s TL;DR: Refn was trying to make a commentary or maybe just reflection on beauty, vanity, and narcissism and I think he missed the mark because we didn’t get a piece that dissected societal pressures, instead we saw how women will literally devour each other to get ahead. With enough context given, a movie could use this plot point to really critique societal pressures and how they distort us, but I didn’t feel like Refn did that here and the weight of the blame ultimately settled on the characters, not society. 

Kate Notes:

Are you the neon demon? From the title? Sea of thieves meme


Trust me, I can tell. OKAY dude. Love a story where a man knows everything about a woman he just met. 


Ah ruby, that smile. So warm. It’s almost like she’s not going to try to eat you. 


Lots of slow motion camera shots. Her being mesmerized. Ruby please there are people here, stop being so sensuous. The little brush tap on the nose. 


The slow exacting gaze of a man at the top of his field. Ugh. 


Where their talent is nothing compared to his. I hate him. 


She said that was her natural hair what do you call THOSE ROOTS BABE


“Look vacant” so I can fill you with what I think you should be 


The sunliight. The perpetual glare on the camera. 


The silence of this movie is fascinating. Like you just have diegetic sounds in so many scenes. 


I wonder what the mountain lion symbolized? Her invasion or how other people will prey on her? 


Mirrors, my old friend. 


Seeing them best through the mirror. I think the profile seen best through the mirror is cool. It’s only when she’s really judging herself that she looks full on into the mirror. 


Mesmerized. That triple triangle thing is all she sees. Is that the neon demon? From the title that triangle reflected so it’s a diamond.


Ope gotta kiss both reflections or the other one will get jealous


Is this her like centering and grounding?


It was a blue light when she was innocent, now the fierceness is red 


There is no one in the red gem because that’s where she goes? She had to find herself .


Ruby in the. Mirror. With the leopard. She’s double imaging or whatever. Fractured. Oh my. 


Has anyone used a smartphone? A robe on the chair. Ominous. The. Austere hallways. 


Predatory Lesbian

Gainax Ending



Reflection smorches

Works Cited:

Jao, Charline. (2016, June 27). The Neon Demon Review. The Mary Sue.


Fowler, E J. (2020, March 3). Casually LGBT+: Reinventing Tired Tropes. Writer’s Workout.


Buchanan, Kyle. (2016, May 20). Cannes: 6 Reasons Why The Neon Demon Is the Craziest Movie of the Summer. Vulture.