Movie: The Neon Demon
My Rating: 3 stars
I really don’t know quite what to make of this movie, or what I should rate it. It’s a very odd specimen. And, while I didn’t necessarily find the film to be very enjoyable, it was certainly very interesting. It’s another film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, and like all his other works, it’s a masterful exploration of mood and style. And, the overall tone of that mood is very dark and unsettling. This movie is essentially the artsiest, most stylish horror film you’ll have the pleasure of experiencing. It creates that knot of dread deep in your stomach in the very first scene, and never lets up even for a minute.
The story is set in the cut-throat world of professional modeling. Jessie (Elle Fanning) is sixteen years old and alone in the world. She’s just arrived in Los Angeles where she hopes to be a model. But everything feels a bit scary. This is an industry that values extreme youth and otherworldly beauty. Similar to driving a new car off the lot, the value of the product starts plummeting with every minute that ticks away. So, for these fashion models who have based their entire sense of self-worth on their beauty and desirability, once they start approaching their expiration date—the ripe, old age of twenty-one years—a certain pervasive sense of desperation sets in. But, casting agents can sniff out desperation from a mile away, and that only decreases these girls’ value even more.
Being a professional model looks like a miserable existence. And, it creates a certain predatory competitiveness amongst the girls who are trying to “make it.” It’s an industry where you can’t trust anyone—especially if you’re fresh of the bus from Akron, Ohio. Agents see dollar signs. Photographers and designers see sex. Girls who are trying to be friends are only testing newcomers for weakness. And, little Jessie is so new and inexperienced that everyone in Los Angeles immediately identifies her as a mark. As a viewer, I found myself practically yelling at this girl, “Get out of there! Don’t trust her!!”
This is a pretty interesting movie. I’d recommend watching it. But, doing go into it expecting to be lightly entertained. This is a very dark, unsettling, and sexually charged movie. The pace is slow and deliberate. And, there isn’t really a defined narrative arc. Our protagonist is very unsure and disoriented, and her follow her as she feels out this new world. But, you’ll absolutely love the cinematography and imagery if you go into this movie expecting an art film. Just don’t watch this movie with anyone too sensitive or impatient.