The unnatural fashion industry is The Neon Demon in Nicolas Winding Refn’s new film. The story centers on Jesse, an aspiring runway model (Elle Fanning). Jesse is sixteen and straight out of Anytown, USA. She’s living out of a dumpy motel in Pasadena and going out to Los Angeles to find a manager to represent her, a photographer to give her cred. L.A. may not be the right place to set a movie about the fashion industry, New York City or Paris or London would’ve been more appropriate. That there is no major runway show in L.A. is beside the point, however, because the movie suggests that High Fashion is a handmaiden to the plastic surgery industry, and where is the center of plastic surgery if not Los Angeles? With lines like “who wants milk when they can have fresh meat?” the movie digs especially hard into the fashion industry’s obsession with youth. But while criticizing the cult of youth and rigidly defined beauty is nice and all, what’s potent about The Neon Demon is its style: the movie is mostly about atmosphere and by virtue of its gorgeous performers with outstanding hair and makeup, its stunning clean compositions, and Cliff Martinez’s effective score, the movie is a hypnotic trip that doesn’t let up. Refn’s films aren’t known to be very funny and The Neon Demon is no exception, although there’s a good dose of irony and Keanu Reeves gets a handful of funny lines. Otherwise the movie’s stylized dialogue is of a piece with its surrealism and its macabre tone. A lot has been made of the violence in this film. In fact the violence is spasmodic, nothing like a gory bloodbath, although someone takes a bath in blood. Because mud masks just don’t cut it anymore.
By Alec Julian & Carrie White