Thursday, June 30, 2016

Movie Review #446: "The Neon Demon" (2016)

Movie"The Neon Demon"
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 57 minutes
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A young girl named Jesse (Elle Fanning) moves to Los Angeles with aspirations of being a model. She is on her way to becoming the next big thing, but with each success, she starts to draw the ire of other models who will go to any lengths to get what she's got.

Director Nicolas Winding Refn has taken a shot at creating what can best be described as high art horror with "The Neon Demon." It stars Elle Fanning as a 16-year old aspiring model named Jesse, who moves to Los Angeles to break into the modeling business. She quickly becomes the new "it" girl on the scene, drawing contempt from her beauty-obsessed rivals. In many ways, it gorgeously juxtaposes beauty and horror as it shows an ugly story, shot in a beautiful way, about beautiful people doing ugly things. It's simultaneously flawed and fascinating, immersive and indescribable, grotesque and grand. The beautiful ugliness doesn't stop with Jesse. The film also stars Jena Malone as a makeup artist named Ruby, who befriends Jesse when she first arrives in L.A. The two hit it off right away, but you get the sense that Ruby always has more on her mind than what she's really saying, like she might not always be telling the entire truth about things. Karl Glusman plays Dean, a photographer who found Jesse online and took her portfolio photos, and also has a romantic interest in her even though he knows she's only 16 years old. Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee play Gigi and Sarah, two models and friends of Ruby's who are quite jealous about Jesse's rapid rise and will do whatever it takes to have what she has. Finally, Keanu Reeves plays the skeevy motel manager where Jesse is currently residing in a shorter but equally nasty, seedy performance.

We feel like it's rather expected that the world of fashion would be dog-eat-dog in nature, full of shallow, nasty, sniping, self-absorbed people, but "The Neon Demon" takes this notion to quite the extreme. Even the protagonist Jesse, who early on is portrayed as an innocent, wide-eyed bumpkin has certain level of vileness to her that gets progressively worse and more outwardly portrayed as time goes on. This is not just from being corrupted by the fashion world, but rather comes from a huge level of arrogance and conceitedness she has about herself. The longer it goes on, the more Jesse's true self gets revealed, and the truth is a whole lot of ugly. Director Nicolas Winding Refn intends to shock his audiences, and it does accomplish this (and then some) the longer it progresses. Much of its ultimate conclusion is foreshadowed in the dialogue and in some of the visuals early on, and the more we think about it, the more we realize almost everything led us to ending beforehand. The script, the haunting and pulsating synth-pop score by Cliff Martinez, plus Refn's stunning cinematography, even when the images he's providing are grotesque in nature, have an underlying beauty to it all. There is a lot of ambiguity as the narrative is not only unclear, but it is messy and not straightforward, either.

In the end, you may be left shocked, possible disgusted, maybe confused, and probably not satisfied with "The Neon Demon," but there's no doubt that it'll make you think and it'll stick with you for hours, possibly even days to come. We know we are still thinking about it several days after watching it. It's stylish but excessive, indulgent but bizarre, messy but remarkable, a cruel and freaky mind-meld in its own right.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 47%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?


  1. The only reason it's stuck with my days after is because I'm STILL baffled as to why NWR would make such a mess. A beautiful mess, but still a mess. Nice review.

    1. We totally apologize, I'm not sure how we missed this comment! We agree this movie is a total mess, but darn if it ain't pretty to look at! A month later, we're STILL thinking about this film!!