Refn has undeniable vision. The color hues and seductively stylish lens, however, are not nearly enough to buoy the stilting narrative, script, and paper-thin characters. As his first female-centric story, Refn fails to create a semblance of an arc or any development in the jockeying feminine forces in his film. Characters are so inconsistent, they merely serve as pieces to an elaborate set that Refn moves around for his pleasure. Although Neon Demon bears strong resemblance to Mulholland Drive, there's not nearly enough narrative pay-off to merit a worthwhile discussion.
Neon Demon follows Jesse (a talented Elle Fanning who struggles to show a semblance of her skill), a fresh face in LA, attempting to cut it in the cutthroat world of modeling. It's easy for her presumably, because she possesses that undefinable "it" -- the "it" that no one is able to describe coherently, but is enough to turn heads and draw people towards her like moths to a flame. It's also enough to turn her competition violent.
If Refn is making a statement on the vapidity of modeling and self-image, or to create a cast of strong female characters, he's blundered seriously. The problem is that he's so damn close. He certainly tries to with his constant allusions to mirrors, the self-love women emit to their reflections, as well as a brief glimpse at the murderous world of modeling. But his attempts either seem too banal, like Christina Hendrick's easy handling of an audition process, or too over the top, like the climactic scene.
Refn's got so much style, it's almost worth it. There are certain set pieces or key scenes that are clearly only there for visuals. And that's fine, but there is a point in the story (and believe me, although it's different where that point is for people, you'll inevitably reach it) where it's not enough.
Of course, the soundtrack is one of the strongest points. Refn has an interesting relationship with consistent collaborateur Cliff Martinez, often bringing in the composer before he's even written a script. The music is the pulsating lifeline for the film, and Neon Demon likely makes more sense viewing it as musically based rather than on any other reference point.
On that note, here's a link to the playlist Refn made for the cast and crew to get them in the mood for the movie. It might be better just to listen to that and skip the movie altogether.