[The following contains spoilers for The Neon Demon, and descriptions of violence.]
Nicholas Winding Refn may be one of the most singular and bullheadedly determined directors currently working, for better and for worse. His past three films have all been garishly-lit grotty portraits of the underbellies of seemingly glamorous lifestyles in major cities, with most of the variations being minor deviations in framing and storytelling rather than aesthetics. He’s hellbent on chasing his every single thought down the neon-soaked rabbit hole of his camera lens whether people like it (as most seemed to with Drive) or not (Only God Forgives has mostly been rejected, somewhat unfairly).
With that in mind, The Neon Demon has both a lot going for it and against it. Refn’s previous films illustrate that he’s very good indeed at what he does, but The Neon Demon’s shift in direction is towards a feminine perspective (specifically in relation to the cutthroat world of female models in Los Angeles fashion), which Refn has mostly omitted from his prior work. Instead, he’s opted for a hyper-stylized, fetishized view of masculinity that reads very easily as queer. So, how does the traditional Refn gaze work when applied to a story that’s inseparably about women and femininity? Well, the results are nothing if not interesting, particularly as applied to the character of makeup designer Ruby (played by Jena Malone).