Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Desmond Harrington, Karl Glusman, Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee
Running time: 1h 57min
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
1 1/2 frames out of 5
By: Shari K. Green
Imagine picking up a fashion magazine and thumbing through it. What jumps off the page? Beauty does. Beautiful photographs of beautiful people who are posed in ways to sell a product. Now, throw on some hard core synth-rock, turn it up very loudly, (especially the base) and flip through this magazine very quickly. That’s “The Neon Demon.” It’s superbly photographed people and sets with, sadly, not much substance holding the film together to keep you on the hook throughout. I was curious and had to know where this story was leading, but this could easily be the one film of the year that causes folks to head back to the ticket booth for a refund.
It starts by introducing you to Jesse (Fanning), a sixteen year old who moves to town to be the next big thing in modeling. Everyone, except she herself, (as she has little to no training) immediately loves her and must have a piece of her. Ruby (Malone) literally wants her (not hard to pick up on) and offers guidance plus her phone number to the lovely young woman with the “deer in headlights” look about her. Jesse attends a party with Ruby who introduces her to two models, Sarah (Lee) and Gigi (Heathcote) who instantly intimidate Jesse, as they meant to. Sarah and Gigi, in the modeling world, are past their “expiration date” and are jealous of the young and unaltered beauty and doesn’t appreciate the fact that Ruby has brought her onto their turf. Jesse survives the teasing from the frigid women but soon she is confronted with other dangers; mountain lions, hotel manager’s, older men and photographers are all out to consume her yet she has a solid head on her shoulders and isn’t scared away. When things get intense, she holds her chin up high and rides out the storm. She’s on her way to a better life and knows it’s at her fingertips.
The film has gorgeous camera work. Natasha Braier, most known for her work on “The Rover” and “XXY”, has been a producer, writer and actress but her skill when a camera is in her hands is where she best performs and is, if anything is, what to see in this production. Notably, Braier’s camera loves Fanning’s natural beauty but time spent leaving the audience gazing on the face of an actress simply standing and doing nothing isn’t the way to entertain one. Several times in this film, you’re given the promise of a thriller, yet you mostly receive beautiful faces, loud music and… not much else, however, we do see growth as Jesse realizes her worth. Coldly, she tells a suitor, Dean (Glusman), that she doesn’t want to be like Sarah and Gigi or other models, “They want to be me.”
Toward the end, when Jesse runs into Ruby, Sarah and Gigi again, things don’t go well for her. These are the most exciting moments of the film. When Ruby is alone with a corpse what you get is unexpected. It’s graphic, disgusting and shocking but at least the movie finally gives you something to hold your interest; even if the fact that they go where they go is quite surprising. Warning, you might want to bring along a pail to hurl into.
What is this movie really about? I’ll let Sarah shed some light on that for you. When asked if she had ever lost a job because of another girl essentially moving in on it, she says, “Yes.” When asked what she did about it, her response is, “I ate her.”
In summation, the few scenes of beautiful cinematography and people engaging in cannibalism and necrophilia that have you covering your mouth in disbelief aren’t at all worth sitting through this entire movie. You can’t say it isn’t visually stimulating but not once does it truly stimulate the mind. Its pacing is slow and does not capture the imagination in the way, I’m sure, director Nicolas Winding Refn, had intended.
Although it is a breakout role for Elle Fanning in the way that you’re not going to see her as a little girl anymore, I’d suggest you skip this one… as she should have considered doing. “The Neon Demon” opens in theaters starting June 24, 2016.