“Film Review: “The Neon Demon” (2016)

neon_demon_4_15_1050_591_81_s_c1A bit of a departure from my usual film reviews. A film I VERY strongly recommend you never see. I’ll paint you a word picture of the interesting portions. The rest should be trashed.

This film got a lot of chatter at Cannes, a venue that spawns a lot of interesting independent films that would ordinarily never make it to theaters. This film sounded interesting and so I saw it in an afternoon showing. Towards the end, several people walked out in disgust, deservedly so. This director, Nicolas Winding Refn, worked an interesting concept, then let it degenerate to patently offensive visuals that weren’t needed and were seemingly placed for effect that backfired.

This is a film exploring the ruthless modeling industry, in which women really are shaped shaped into barren, soulless objects to generate interest for marketing of “things”.

Jesse, a maybe naïve 16-year-old orphan, runs away to the big city to pursue a career in modeling. “I can’t sing, dance or write……… but I’m “pretty” and I think I can make money from that”. She then proceeds to stand out from the other “pretty” young women as those in the business of finding and building models instantly see the quality of her being “it”. That quality that can’t be described but can be instantly discerned when viewed.

There are two telling scenes. The first is then Jesse gets a photo session with a top model photographer, an appropriately weird guy who takes one look at her and clears the room for a “closed session” (to photograph her nude). Jesse has zero experience with men, much less extremely powerful men who know how to manipulate women to suit the camera. Jesse (played by 18 year old knockout beauty Elle Fanning who doesn’t have much experience with such men either) shows genuine and absolutely stunning emotional response of a young girl entering a universe she has no conception of. These emotions paint her face as he paints her body for the camera.

The second is a scene of about a dozen veteran, drop dead beautiful young women sitting around a big room in their underwear, shapely legs elegantly crossed in 6 inch heels waiting to be called to parade themselves in front of a bored fashion designer for a spot in his show. The designer barely notices most of them, his female assistant dismissing them with a laconic “thank you”. Jesse steps in front and at first glance his jaw literally drops. He can’t take his eyes off her. It’s fascinating to watch.


But in the end, Jesse succumbs to the dehumanizing, defeminizing monstrosity that is the modeling industry, predatory males on every level and the icy scorn of the soulless “also ran” vixens. By mid-film, Jesse has been expertly shaped away from humanity. She makes being bought and sold as a product seem exhilarating, which explains why the lesser players, beautiful that they may be, but not with the “it” factor get inevitably rejected.

The first half of this film would have made an excellent HBO drama, discarding the explicit and extremely offensive scenes that follow. Repulsive even to me and I thought I’d seem them all. These scenes do not add to the director’s original vision at all and simply ruin the film, guaranteeing extremely bad word-of-mouth, including mine, and poor box office showing. Exactly what his reward should be. This would have been a better film had it been directed by David Lynch.

I give this offensive film two ratings:

For the film, 0 of 5 glaring neon makeups

For the selected concepts: 5 of 5 flawless, flawed beauties.

NOT recommended by me. If it comes up eventually on HBO, watch the first half then trash it.

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