If you’re old enough to remember the 80’s then you might recall old television ads for designer labels, particularly perfume, that were meant to be visually stimulating but wound up being somewhat strange and would leave you wondering what exactly they were advertising. Take these weird, artsy commercials and stretch those out for 2 hours and you have Nicholas Winding Refn’s latest creation, The Neon Demon. Billed as a psychological thriller, this movie would be better sold as a live action fashion magazine ad. More eye candy than substance, this film is like a trophy wife, meant to bring pleasure to your eyes, but not much more.
The words that come to mind when I think about what I did with the two hours of my life I gave away to this flick are slow, vapid, boring, glamour shots, vanity, awkward, shallow…I think you get the picture. Apparently Elle Fanning is so stunning that just watching her gaze at herself with an odd “deer-caught-in-headlights” look is supposed to be entertaining. Fanning plays a young model, new to the LA scene trying to hold on to her innocence while capitalizing on her looks. Literally. At one point she actually says she has no talent but that she can sell pretty. That line, for me, summed up this film. It is selling pretty. That really seems to be the whole point. But while some of the images are striking and pleasant to look at, some of the transitions are jarring, going from very dark to gleaming white. While I’m sure that was maybe intended as a larger metaphor to what is going on, it left me with the beginnings of a headache as we transition from scenes that are low lit or have low audio to glaring lights and sound. Ugh.
The single moment in the whole film where someone objects to outward beauty being the only thing to life, they are shut down, and despite their loyalty and support, Fanning, in what seems to be an instantaneous transition from innocent Midwestern girl to LA diva, dismisses him. One of the best parts of the film is Keanu Reeves who plays the sleazy owner of a dirt cheap hotel that asks no questions about the age of its guests and preys upon the runaways he claims to give refuge to. It’s a departure from his usual good guy/hero role and he pulls it off well.
This movie was a long, drawn out glamour magazine ad with no real story or explanation for what was going on. We are all told the horror stories of Hollywood, how it’s geared towards youth and beauty and the desperate things people will do to try and stay relevant and this is just a play on that. Honestly, it isn’t even a good take on that theme. Shallowness is the hero here. Do anything to stay young and beautiful and relish in the looks you have that people are envious of. Overall, the lack of cohesiveness to the story, the lack of overall substance, and every actress portraying a sultry yet horrified yet doe eyed look through long scenes of just staring at them, at each other, at walls…combine to make this a movie that had I not had to write a review for, I might have left midway through, like some of the other people in the theater did.
Leaving the theater many people were just laughing and unfortunately the film isn’t meant to be funny. So it left me wondering if they were laughing at it because there was no way to laugh with it. Fanning, the star meant to convey innocence lost, comes across so annoying that seeing her attacked in a later scene brings cheers from the audience. Although, maybe they were cheering because they knew it was almost over.
You see, unlike the fashion magazine ads that this film seemed desperate to be like, you couldn’t just turn the page. You can’t just put the book down and throw it away. You are stuck there in your seat watching beautiful, yet shallow young white women stare. They stand there lifeless even in scenes where they are modeling. It’s like an overall reflection of what the movie is supposed to be, a still, lifeless picture that you just stare at, only unfortunately for us, the audience, it isn’t just a picture, it’s a movie. A 2 hour movie that left my brain feeling so numb, I felt like I had just left a Trump rally. Wait, I think he actually has more substance than this film….yikes.