Beauty isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, the man behind Drive and Only God Forgives, brings us The Neon Demon. Being a huge fan of the film Drive, I was pretty bummed out when I couldn’t see this one in theaters. I finally got the chance to see it tonight in Digital HD and I was blown away (not in a good way). So here’s the rundown: Jesse, who is played by Elle Fanning, is a very young and inspiring model who has just moved to Los Angeles. After a creepy photo shoot with Jesse being covered with blood, she meets Ruby (Jena Malone), a make up artist who helps her clean off the fake blood (foreshadowing as heck). She invites Jesse to this weird flashing lights party and Jesse meets these other two models, Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee). Gigi continuously brags about her extensive plastic surgery, and Sarah insists the only thing that matters in this town is who you’re having sex with.
The following morning, Jesse interviews at a modeling agency. Her interviewer, Roberta Hoffman (Christina Hendricks), showers her with compliments on her beauty and the prediction that she will be great. Jesse informs Roberta she’s only 16 — Roberta fixes this with a parental consent form and by getting Jesse to lie about her age and say she is 19. Jesse and Dean (Karl Glusman), a young amateur photographer whom she met on the internet, go celebrate her signing to the agency, she states that she’s always felt talentless but is confident she can make money with her looks.
Jesse finds herself at a casting call the next day. Sarah is also here, and doesn’t take kindly to Jesse’s presence. The fashion designer (Allesandro Nivola) is unimpressed by most of the models but takes on an immediate connection with Jesse as she auditions. She’s immediately hired which frustrates Sarah, who breaks down in a bathroom and throws a trash can at the mirror. Jesse walks in and compliments Sarah, but she asks her what it feels like to walk into a room and be loved by everyone Jesse says, its everything. When Jesse cuts her hand on a broken piece of mirror, Sarah tries to drink her blood by licking her hand. Jesse panics and runs to her motel. A fashion show ran by the designer is held. Jesse and Gigi both take part of it, but the designer specifically wants to use Jesse as the closing model. As expected, this drives Gigi and the other models crazy. As the show begins, Jesse has an intense hallucination where she sees the mirror images of herself inside making out with each other inside another blue triangle. This is the beginning of Jesse’s transformation from the innocence girl to The Neon Demon.
Later on in the evening, Jesse brings Dean to a private event with the designer and models. The designer can’t stop talking about how Gigi is just a model filled with plastic surgeries and how Jesse is a diamond in a sea of glass. Dean argues with him over claims that beauty is everything; when he insists Dean would’ve never bothered with Jesse is she wasn’t beautiful, he gets fed up and leaves the party. Jesse finds him waiting for her at the hotel later; he asks her if she seriously wants to be like them Jesse claims they actually all want to be her.
Right off the runway, that was a bizarre little adventure. It is really hard to process what just happened in this film. The score by Cliff Martinez was phenomenal, as was the films’ cinematography. That is a given for a Refn film, they look and sound amazing. Christina Hendricks is critically underused. She is a fantastic actress and she is only given one scene. Keanu Reeves on the other hand who is given little time as well, feels like a huge presence in the film. I wish we would have gotten more with him as well. This film uses mirrors as much as the Rocky franchise uses Montages. The triangle/multi-mirror scene when she closes the show to Martinez’s ‘Runway’ and falls in love with herself was the best scene in the film. it is also when her attitude changes and in the next scene she is mean to Dean. This is indicated through the colors changing from blue to red in the previous runway scene. Jena Malone I expected more out of that final “fight” sequence. Just sort of happens then its already over. A little too anticlimactic for such a slow burn movie. The story is thin, but it’s a good showing of the expendable and cannibalistic nature of the modeling industry as well as their viewpoint on the abstract of beauty.
Overall, I really, really wanted to love this film. I’m still processing it really. I just felt like at times I wasn’t very engaged in what was going on. Almost bored. I definitely respect Refn for being weird, bold and eccentric in his films. I’ll be eagerly anticipating whatever is next regardless of how I feel about The Neon Demon. SuperSam Reviews: 5/10. Check it out on Digital HD.