Nothing is more worthwhile than being a model. No, really. NOTHING is more worthwhile than being a model because you’d be hard pushed to imagine a more vapid, worthless, superficial existence than walking in a straight line along a catwalk wearing clothes. It’s a point made in this week’s new release The Neon Demon where a queue of models are put through the indignity of standing in front of a disparagingly pretentious fashion designer and made to parade up and down a huge room. It’s an empty existence which is suited to some of director Nicholas Winding Refn own films which are beautifully lit and contain some stunning imagery but ultimately have little substance.
But Refn has cast his film well with Elle Fanning excellent as Jesse, a 16 year old model new in LA and is singled out by an agency for big things much to the jealousy of other established models. Her fresh faced innocence and wide eyed naivety is just what the jaded agents and photographers are looking for before she is ultimately corrupted by the realisation that she is ‘it’. Problem for her is that so do many others and befriending a make-up artist (Jena Malone) and making the regular acquaintance of two other models (Bella Heathcote and a spectacularly bitchy Abbey Lee) who all have designs on her but whether it’s infatuation, envy or murderous hatred of her never makes itself fully known until it’s too late. Fanning handles the role with aplomb and Abbey Lee too but perhaps best of all is Keanu Reeves as an agreeably disagreeable motel manager in the sort of against type role he should play more often and it’s a shame that he has so few scenes in the film
Refn’s films are notoriously divisive and for every celebrated film, (‘Pusher’, ‘Drive’) there’s the critically lambasted, (‘Only God Forgives’), and The Neon Demon is more likely to fall into the latter category with it being another style over substance experience which is appropriate yet obvious for the LA fashion scene and there’s little comment on the industry that isn’t already known with only the occasional decent line such as, ‘Plastic (surgery) is just good grooming’. There are some undeniably uncomfortable and disturbing moments and Refn can’t seem to stop himself from courting controversy unable to resist scenes including necrophilia, cannibalism as well as the almost obligatory gross out moment.
For horror fans though this will be a disappointment as the horror is a very long time coming and when it does arrive is unlikely to appease having sat through almost 2 hours to get there because as sumptuous as the film looks the story is just not engrossing enough to sustain its running time and as a satire there’s nothing new here.