Elle Fanning in a scene from ‘The Neon Demon.’
The Neon Demon is a spectacularly beautiful and superficial movie about absolutely nothing.
On the surface, which is all there really is, its about a delicate teenager named Jesse (a pure-hearted Elle Fanning) who moves to Los Angeles to become a model. Once there, she happens into a frenemy-ship with a smirky makeup artist named Ruby (Jena Malone) and her model friends Sarah (Abbey Lee) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote).
As Jesse rises in the fashion world, Ruby and her beautiful cohorts slowly realize her success could spell their demise.
Nicolas Winding Refns (Drive, Only God Forgives) crime here is not making a bad movie. Its directing a beautiful movie with an extremely lackluster screenplay … which he co-wrote, alongside Mary Laws and Polly Stenham.
For nearly two hours, the film is visually stunning, but deeply purposeless. Bizarre twists have very little payoff, and lines meant to be wry and sexy come off charmless and cloying, particularly when every main character is a fashion plate attempting to be all California cool and nonchalant.
Thankfully, you can save yourself from caring about the dialogue to strictly focus on the visual spectacle. Every scene looks brilliant, creatively designed like a moving, intensely stylized fashion editorial. The clothes are gorgeous, the makeup inventive. Even settings like a cheap motel imbue a kitschy chic dreaminess, a perfect backdrop for beautiful Jesse to saunter about in gauzy little dresses.
Winding Refn also pushes for hyper-colored ethereal effects, mixing in glitchy, surrealist scenes that are a trippy feast for the eyes, paired with a brilliant score by Cliff Martinez. There’s a touch of Under the Skineeriness and horror, but Demonlacks the complexity of the creepily gorgeous Scarlett Johansson art film.
Speaking of other movies Demon resembles, there are elements reminiscent of campier fare like The Craft or Jawbreaker, but without any of the fun or personality.Demon magines itself a more serious picture, which drains it of any potential playfulness, something it could have used for its lackluster plot points.
“The story-line was so secondary that the ending was literally thought up on the set.”
The story-line was so secondary that the ending was allegedly thought up on the set.”If any of the crew has suggestions, let us know!” Fanning reportedly said. That won’t be surprising to anyone who sits through the whole thing.
Young Jesse quickly rises through the modeling ranks, with the help of amateur photographer Dean (Karl Glusman) and a modeling connection thanks to super agent Jan, played by Christina Hendricks. Speaking of, Hendricks’ role is like an iStock photo of a Shallow Modeling Agent, predictably scripted and unworthy of her talents.
Also hey, Keanu Reeves is in this movie, playing sleazy motel owner Hank, which is such random, but fun casting. Reeves seems to relish this opportunity to go full dirt bag, but his screen time is limited.
Fanning plays the part of the wide-eyed ingenue well, but the character doesn’t have enough personality to keep you completely engrossed. There’s nothing interesting about Jesse except that she’s pretty, and somehow spectacularly more pretty than extremely pretty humans Gigi and Sarah (by the way, Lee and Heathcoate are both pretty delightful in these supporting roles). It’s just assumed that Jesse has that It factor, or as Ruby so eloquently explains it:She has that thing.
Additionally, there’s an absurd level of fawning over three blonde, blue-eyed women, an obsession with European beauty standards (reflective of the current fashion industry, certainly) that will bore you to tears and have you praying for even the slightest touch of melanin. Of course, that never arrives.
The pace picks up once Gigi, Sarah and Ruby get frustrated with Jesse’s quick success. Suddenly she is Natalie Portman and they are all bitter Winona Ryders hellbent on destroying this youthful queen bee. She’s Robin Tunney and they’re just a bunch of evil Fairuza Balks!
Sigh. Unfortunately, Neon Demonisn’t as winning as either of those films. All of its charm and beauty is skin deep.
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