Originally working on a project entitled I Walk With the Dead, that would have starred Carey Mulligan as the lead, with Mary Laws, Nicolas Winding Refn decided to develop a psychological horror script about the modelling world in Los Angeles instead. Inspired by Elizabeth Báthory, the film would mark the first female-led film directed by Refn. In November 2014, Refn's production company Space Rocket Nation alongside its co-financiers Gaumont Film Company and Wild Bunch announced that Refn's next film would be titled The Neon Demon, to be filmed in Los Angeles in early 2015. Mulligan later dropped out of the project due to scheduling conflicts. Refn then approached Elle Fanning to replace Mulligan. In January 2015, Fanning joined the film, and helped Refn with revisions of the female characters' dialogue in order to make it sound more authentic. Refn made Elle Fanning watch Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) for her preparation. In the same month, Abbey Lee Kershaw was added to the cast. In February, more cast was added to the film, including Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks, Jena Malone and Bella Heathcote. In March 2015, Karl Glusman and Desmond Harrington were added to the cast. Principal photography on the film began in Los Angeles in March. The film marks Refn's second feature film shot in Los Angeles. The film was shot in chronological order, and the ending was created and improvised on-set. Abbey Lee served as a unofficial advisor for the film, regarding details about the fashion world. Lee gave Refn intel about how an audition for models would play out, down to the things that the casting directors would have on their table. Lee also taught Fanning how to do a proper catwalk as a professional model would do. Fanning, Malone, Heathcote, and Lee had to endure a lot of fake movie blood during production, even having to taste a portion of it. The crew made it taste like syrup, in order to make it more pleasing for the performers. In November 2015, Amazon Studios acquired the distribution rights to the film.
The film stars Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Desmond Harrington, Christina Hendricks, and Keanu Reeves. The cast gave abysmal performances where the film's characters are non-people; the things they say to each other are non-conversations, the events they enact are non-drama.
Director Refn remains as visually stylish as ever, but The Neon Demon fails to add enough narrative smarts or relatable characters to ground its beautifully filmed depravity. The film is an abstruse, neon-dunked nightmare that spits in the face of coherence and flicks at the earlobes of good taste.