Nicolas Winding Refn is the director for this film, who has directed such titles as Drive and Only God Forgives. Now I have never seen these films and maybe that’s the problem because many people who have, say that Refn is a ‘style over substance’ director and after watching this movie I can say that substance is meth laced with crack.
Elle Fanning stars as a 16-year-old girl named Jesse who moves to Los Angeles with no parents, no job, no friends or family, and a janky motel in Pasadena with a manager who may or may not want to rape her in her sleep, so you know things are going to end very well for our hero. After accepting a modeling gig from a photographer that makes Craigslist look safe, she meets a makeup artist named Ruby (Jena Malone). Ruby decides to take Jesse under her wing to protect her from the nuthouse known as the modeling industry. Many women have tried for years to become famous models with little or no success. It’s at this point you know the movie isn’t realistic because most of these girls would have been in Porn at this point but Jesse is so lucky and beautiful, they strap a rocket to her and she finds instant success which doesn’t make many people happy.
Now Elle Fanning is not ugly not any stretch of the imagination but the lengths this movie went to show her as an amazing beauty proves that Hollywood’s definition of beauty and my definition mix about as well as gasoline and Mountain Dew. While she isn’t on the Brian Peppers level of attractiveness (good luck googling that), she isn’t beautiful enough to justify everyone going insane for her and that’s the key word for this review is INSANE. Just about everyone acts like they should be sectioned at a facility with heavy guns. Keanu Reeves plays a sleazy motel manager and you can never tell if he’s just an asshole or if he going to stab you in the neck because you owe him $2. Jesse also has a friend named Dean who looks like the poster child of the sex offender registry. There are also two other models played by real life models Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee. These two are nuttier than a soup sandwich and you figure anyone has to be to care this much about the modeling industry.
The third act of this movie takes a turn like a bus full of virgins going to Camp Crystal Lake. After eating dinner at Red Lobster. After Jesse rejects Ruby’s sexual advances, Ruby decides to release this frustration by having sex with a dead body…yeah. After sitting through that WTF scene we return to the mansion that Ruby stays in and all of the girls decide to kill Jesse and eat her remains to gain her powers of beauty…again…not a joke. It would be one thing if this twist came in the last 5 minutes and made you think what the hell just happened, but this disturbing turn of events going on for the last 30 minutes of the film and makes you completely question what the point of the last two hours was.
Now Neon Demon has been described as a horror film, an art film, and a satire of Hollywood life. The problem is Neon Demon doesn’t establish a true motive or direction for you to understand exactly what it is. The film plays it straight until the third act so any idea that this is a satire or a horror is completely lost on the viewer and never gives them a clear indication of what they are supposed to feel. Now the one thing that absolutely works is the film’s cinematography. Visually it’s one of the best movies of the year. The lighting and effects of the film is an arthouse fanboy’s wet dream that should probably come with an epilepsy warning if you are sensitive to flashing colors. Refn’s desire for visuals is highly praised in all his movies; however, it’s everything else that falls flat. There are many awkward long pauses of literally nothing happening which contributes to the near two-hour run time. The movie wants to be a satirical version of LA life, the problem is you have to establish that early or by the time you get your story to where you want it, the audience might not receive your final product the way you want.
Neon Demon is a movie I really can’t recommend to anyone. If you love cinematography then I definitely would send this film your way but if you want story and a message then The Neon Demon offers nothing for you and I suggest you watch Ninja Turtle 2 if you want a coherent narrative.