Sometimes linear narratives and high-concept storylines are not necessary for a horror picture as long as the film is an ultrastylish gloss over substance. The framework of willowy 16-year-old model Jesse’s (Elle Fanning) rise-to-fame into the Los Angeles fashion world is not innovative for one iota. The objectification of women and Traci Lords underage exploitation of minors has been tilled before. However, Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn is brilliant at casting a spell over the viewers with mesmerizing visuals and the accompaniment of Cliff Martinez’s pulse-pounding techno score.
At the Cannes Film Festival premiere, reticent audience members left in outrage over the film’s sensually startling scenes of necrophilia and cannibalism. Keanu Reeves is prurient and joyously sleazy as Hank, the motel manager who is a predatory presence over Jesse. Everyone else speaks in stilted tones which adds tremendously to the alien nature of the film. More than anything, I would classify the film as a bitter satire of the runway industry because Jesse is such a plain and unremarkable “small town girl” that it’s blithely ironic that she is constantly referred to as the next voguish standard for beauty.
The film is Ken Russell and Dario Argento with the poise and composure of a Merchant-Ivory film. A roving cougar inside Jesse’s room is scarily paralyzing. Thematically, an eyeball regurgitation from Gigi (Bella Heathcote) is symbolic since she is a patchwork of surgery engineering in order to reach physical perfection and she vomits out the inedible appendage because her body is rejecting anything foreign and organic.
People reading this might instantly revolt at how pretentiously lofty this sounds but I couldn’t help but be entranced by the gorgeously phantasmagoric composition. If the critique is that this horror film is devoid of emotion and heft, it’s not an untoward observation on the entire genre as a whole. The Neon Demon meant to titillate and galvanize with strobing eye candy which it does in spades.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5