The neon demon (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2016)

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The neon demon, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (2016).

Score: insubstantial.

Sixteen-year-old Jesse (Elle Fanning) has just arrived at Los Angeles to become a model. Apparently, she’s a natural talent and every door opens for her: model agency manager Roberta Hoffmann (Christina Hendricks) hires her right away and prestigious photographer Jack (Desmond Harrington) agrees to take pictures of her right away. Fellow models Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee) will do anything to bring her down and preserve their positions in the fashion business.

I love neon aesthetics and it is apparent that so does Winding Refn. The movie is visually beautiful, with an artificial and ethereal look to it. But the problem is, there’s nothing beneath to support it.

Cutthroat bitches in showbiz has been done to death. From All about Eve, passing through All about Eve with strippers, a.k.a. Showgirls, to Black swan; Glamorama to Zoolander. Laughing at the fashion industry is not funny anymore, unless you’re going to give it a twist, which isn’t the case here. The movie uses long, symbolic, ambient scenes that ultimately lead to a very trite conclusion.

***SPOILERS***

Unless the movie is a total trainwreck, when I don’t understand something about one, I assume the director or writer did things for a reason, and I try to guess what that reason is. So many weird things happen in The neon demon: a mountain lion sneaks into Jesse’s motel room; Sarah licks Jesse’s blood eagerly. Everybody tells her she’s a sublime model that has something, despite being inexperienced and naïve (which would mean she’s a total pain to work with and would need extensive training). She says, nonchalantly: “I know what I look like. Women would kill to look like this.” I kept thinking there was a reason for all that nonsense, and my money was on something supernatural. Like the actual demon from the title; that would explain those eternal, seizure-inducing scenes where she kisses herself, because she’s so pretty.

But the movie reaches the end and you’re left with that you had at the beginning. They’re all jealous of Jesse because she’s this natural talent and raw beauty and end up cutting her down. Period. It just goes downhill from the moment Ruby molests a corpse at work: it’s a plain non sequitur. A corpse is the complete opposite from what Jesse is supposed to be: the room is in winter and she’s the sun. Also, I don’t know whether Gigi and Sarah actually ate Jesse and I don’t want to find out.

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