The Neon Demon is one weird ass movie. There is just no denying that.
16-year old Jesse (Elle Fanning) is in Los Angeles, looking to begin her career as a model. And Jesse has that something special that everyone is after. They describe it in the film as beauty, non-tampered with and real. She becomes the belle of the ball immediately, drawing the ire and the jealousy of the other models with their plastic surgery induced faces.
Then, the film takes a rapid nose-dive into territory that might befit a horror movie, including some huge eyebrow raising moments.
Yes, there was a cougar (literal cougar, not an older woman on the prowl for younger men) that broke into Jesse’s room at the rundown hotel where she lived. Thankfully, she was able to get her landlord, Keanu Reeves, to take care of the animal.
Yes, Keanu Reeves is in this movie as a lowlife landlord. He is not on screen for long, but we really grow to have a severe dislike for the man. The film was not trying to be subtle with the characterization of Reeves’ character, that was for sure.
Actually, there was very little in characterization. The models were all stereotypical, shallow and superficial. The agents and photographers were all one-note.
The only character who had anything of interest besides Jesse was make up artist Ruby (Jena Malone), but she descends into a spiteful and horrid creature for little reason, completely spoiling the seemingly caring woman that she had displayed. She dove directly into the weirdness with one of the more disturbing scenes of her and a dead body. Yes… that is what I mean.
Now, the film may have been narratively challenged, but the visuals were astounding. Every shot was beautifully compiled and photographed, the colors and shades a perfect balance. Director Nicholas Winding Refn created a feast for the senses in The Neon Demon. Even though there were some scenes that I had no idea what was happening, it always looked amazing.
Even with the lack of characterization and the questionable story (we never did really find out why a 16-year old was alone in LA), I was enjoying the visual storytelling going on and would have probably recommended this…until… the end.
To say that the last 20 minutes of this film altered everything would not be too strong of a statement. I assume that Refn was using the events of the ending of this film as an analogy for how the modeling perfection eats up the young and innocent, requiring the girls to become something not quite human to survive. However, he took this analogy into too much literal ground for me, robbing the film of any subtly it may have had.
The image at the end of this film with the model and the eyeball that was laughable, if it weren’t so grotesquely shocking.
Elle Fanning is a beautiful young actress that has a great career ahead of her despite this weird movie. The film has amazing visuals throughout (especially Fanning), but the lack of characterization, story and too many WTF moments really dragged down anything that The Neon Demon was trying to accomplish.