I have no idea what to think about this movie. I mean, it’s the same director of 2011’s popular Ryan Gosling film DRIVE (I thought it was just okay), but I am a huge fan of the cast. Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks, Jena Malone, Keanu Reeves, all of em I think are incredible actors. But I could not get any idea about what the movie was really about. It looked like a visual Fantasia. I won’t lie though… I was pretty interested. Maybe not overly hyped, I can’t say I’m a fan of Nicolas Winding Refn (only ever saw DRIVE. BRONSON is on my Netflix queue), but the movie’s cast and visual trippiness was enough to get me interested. Is this movie a visual nirvana, or should you shield your eyes? This is my honest opinion of THE NEON DEMON.
Jesse (Elle Fanning) is a small-town girl aspiring to be a model who just moved into Los Angeles. Due to her natural beauty and youth, she is signed on by an agency. On her first shoot with them, she meets a makeup artist named Ruby (Jena Malone) and the two strike up a friendship. After the shoot, Ruby brings Jesse to a part where she meets seasoned models Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee), who judge and size up Jesse, ultimately not thinking highly of her. But before long, Jesse begins to take the modeling gigs by storm, taking the most coveted spots by these women who are slowly becoming less relevant and the attention and prestige may be taking Jesse’s innocence the more higher up the chain she gets.
DO NOT SEE THIS MOVIE IF YOU HAVE A WEAK CONSTITUTION!!! This is a deeply fucked up movie and progressively gets more disturbing as it progresses. By the time the credits were rolling, I left the auditorium unable to come up with an opinion. I was just looking forward to getting in my car to go home and do something cheery and bouncy. It’s been days since I’ve seen this movie and within that time, I still hadn’t the slightest idea what the hell my opinion was. But now that the initial shock has worn off, I have come up with an opinion, and it’s probably going to differ from the many reviews… maybe. I’ll have to read those to be sure.
I am convinced, with all of my heart and soul… this movie is a dark, grizzly, fucked up satire of models and the modeling industry.
Let me elaborate on this theory. First of all, I’ve met models in my life. And while I won’t pretend that there aren’t people like this, those that are obsessed with their image and status in the industry and would go to extreme measures to make sure that they are on top of the world and stay there, this film portrays everyone like that. Everyone you meet in this movie is either shallow as hell, vicious as fuck, vain as can be, and creepy to the point of feeling like my soul needed a hug. And yet, the models I’ve met in my life, admittedly very few, have never mentioned anything of this nature. This movie is radiated in discomfort and I have the most difficult time in believing that even one percent of this movie has any basis in fact. But then again, we do live in a fucked up society, so would it be so surprising if this shit happened? I’m no expert on the industry, and I wouldn’t know where to start to verify facts, but if you’re in the mood for some light reading, check out this article written by Sara Ziff at theguardian.com where she gives insight to mistreatment that she’s been the victim of and some other shocking stories and statistics.
Actually, upon reading the article, a lot of what was described in it actually does happen in the movie. Jesse is sixteen years old, one of her first photo shoots requires her to be naked despite no early warnings and clear signs that she is not comfortable doing it. Even sexual abuse is tackled. So this movie has a few things right, I guess.
But unless you dive into the deepest bowels of the internet, I doubt you’d find an article about a model cannibalizing another person- OH FOR FUCK SAKE!!!
Okay, okay, this is an isolated incident, but it is profoundly shocking how much this movie dipped into reality, but it’s fair to say that Omaima Nelson was definitely not motivated simply to be better than another girl, but… yeah, I’m straying way off here. Going back to try and stay on the review of the movie.
The first thing you’d notice from the trailer is that it’s a visual spectacle. This is not a lie. When a scene isn’t taking place during a photo shoot or a modeling thing of some kind, it’s shot like a regular movie. Standard camera angles and all that. But as soon as you put Jesse in a dress or makeup, the movie takes a hard turn. The visuals are so surreal and so abstract, there’s actually a lot that can be discussed about their symbolism, how they tie in to the story, Jesse’s psyche, and eventual descent into vanity, self-absorption, even insanity.
As I’ve previously stated, I’m a fan of the cast, but let me go through the highlights. Fanning usually gets typecast into the role of a wide-eyed girl with a million dollar smile, so it’s no wonder that she landed the role of Princess Aurora in 2014’s MALEFICENT. This isn’t too different, playing a shy hopeful with some mild ambition, but her role is played with in a vastly different way that makes this the most unique and daring role for Fanning. Aside from the obvious of getting almost naked on camera (not gonna lie, I don’t think I’m ready for that. I still remember her from 2006’s BABEL; she was eight years old back then), her bare chest is covered with paint by a sleazy photographer, and from that point on, she plays against the roles she’s known for and becomes this entitled, pretentious bitch who mistreated people who helped her get where she ended up.
Unfortunately, Heathcote and Lee sort of blend into the background. Because this movie is chock full of models… who are blonds, I wasn’t always able to tell them apart. Fanning’s easy enough to spot, the movie follows her ninety percent of the time, but I had a hard time figuring out that she was talking to either Gigi or Sarah when she shared screen time with them. Am I saying that all blonds look alike? Please don’t hate me, ladies, I’m a man. I don’t look for subtle differences. They’re not bad by any means, but… Malone shouldn’t have been the only brunette. Some distinguishing features would have been nice too, but I digress.
I do have to complain that as much as I love Reeves, and he’s by no means bad in this movie, his character is completely unnecessary and doesn’t really add anything to the story. All he does is act like a bitter asshole to young women that he… possibly hurts in more ways than one. But you could have cut his character out of the story and it would have progressed just fine.
And seriously, I hated Chris Martinez’s score. It’s unbelievably distracting. It’s like something straight out of the sci-fi video game franchise MASS EFFECT if it was obnoxious. This score would have suited the movie fine if it was a science fiction story, but it’s not. It’s a psychological horror flick that should have had ominous, more subtle music instead of this discount Jack Wall/Sam Hulick knock-off. I’m not even entirely convinced this wasn’t visually stolen from MASS EFFECT. I mean, look at the heavy blues and reds among the black backgrounds with a few lens flares for good measure during the trippier scenes throughout the movie. I kept waiting for Harbinger to show up and assume direct control (and considering how this movie ends, it wouldn’t be a shock if that happened).
This movie won’t be to everyone’s liking. It’s a very weird and disturbing film and you’re really gonna have to look at it with an open mind… and probably an empty stomach. It doesn’t opt for a standard story arch and will leave you feeling dirty. But to be real with you… I think I like that this movie had such a profound effect on me and made me really think about what this movie was really about. It’s visually gripping and has an atmosphere that will leave you feeling ungodly uncomfortable for the duration of its near-two hour runtime. But it’s a fascinating picture and I’m actually happy that I saw it. But make no mistake, I’m only recommending it to anyone who is in the mood for weird and fucked up movies. I know this isn’t the worst or anything, but it’s definitely the first time I’ve sat in a theatre for this kind of movie. Movies like this won’t always be up my alley, but it has left an interesting impression on me.
My honest rating: 4/5