Last year, I spent an afternoon at a beautiful sprawling house in Los Angeles where Nicholas Winding Refn was shooting his new film, The Neon Demon, and I spoke to both Refn and his young lead, Elle Fanning, about what Refn was unabashedly calling a horror film.
Knowing Refn”s work, though, I wouldn”t expect him to make something that would easily fit into a narrow definition of a genre, and today”s release of the first trailer for The Neon Demon seems to confirm that whatever it is he”s up to, it”s not going to be simple and straightforward. Gorgeous and surreal, this looks like Black Swan set in the world of modeling. Fanning has grown into one of the most interesting young actors working, and sitting and talking with her during the dinner break on the set that day, I was struck by that strange combination of an almost childlike innocence and this canny, self-aware maturity that seems to constantly be at war within her.
The fashion world has oddly been untouched by horror for the most part, but it seems overripe for opportunity. After all, it”s an industry that commodifies women even more than Hollywood does, often reducing them to being nothing more than body parts, a ticking clock running on their career from the moment it begins. What”s clear right away is that we”re going to get Refn as his most stylish here. By far, the most interesting part of spending a day on-set watching him work was seeing just how Refn sets up these amazing visual dreamscapes for his movies. He”s not remotely chasing reality with his work, and that”s one of the things I really like about his movies. Part of what I love about movies is that feeling when you surrender yourself to a master stylist, seeing the world through that person”s eyes, and Refn”s very good at drawing you in and then drowning you in lush colors and deep shadows.
The other thing I walked away from after watching them work is that Refn is not afraid to improvise and experiment on-set, and while he may start with a locked script, he is always looking for those moments of inspiration that elevate his plan into something even better. That restlessness comes through in the films, and I think it”s exciting to see that he”s just as hungry today as he”s ever been as an artist.
The Neon Demon will be in theaters later this year.