Did you know that Elle Fanning is pretty? That should probably be the tagline for this weird fucking film. I spent the first 90 minutes of The Neon Demon thinking: “I must have confused this with something else. This is not a horror movie.” Then for the last 45 mins it goes batshit cannibalistic lesbian crazy.
At its core is the myth of Narcissus with some leftfield witchcraft thrown in and a lot of trite philosophising about beauty. It’s aimed squarely at millennials and their shallow, naval gazing obsessions with fame and being pretty.
This is a long movie. Really long. And much of that is comprised of lingering shots of Elle Fanning being pretty. Not posing or modelling. She just stands. Or sits. Dead. Like the corpse she appears as at the start of the movie. I don’t mind Elle. And with the trance sound track and cinematography the effect is mildly mesmerising. But 2 hours of mildly mesmerising is quite an irritating ordeal.
The whole experience is peculiarly cold and empty. The characters are inaccessible – beyond being obsessed with the pursuit of beauty, they have no character. Even Elle just steps out of the void determined to be famous for being the prettiest. No back story. No character. Nothing.
We are supposed to believe that Elle has that “thing.” More than natural beauty, more than innocence, effortless perfection.
“What’s it feel like?” She is asked by another model. “…To walk into a room and it’s like in the middle of winter, you’re the sun.”
And that’s the whole movie right there. Elle swans around being pretty and getting all the breaks until she’s pissed off a coven of model witches who kill and eat her for being pretty. No I’m serious. They consume her essence. Her It.
The witches then respond differently to this consumption. The lesbian necrophiliac makeup artist menstruates all over the floor for no discernable reason. The model who’s had a lot of work done gets sick, pukes up an eyeball then stabs herself. Apparently because fake beauty can’t contain Ellen’s real beauty (seriously, the director said this). And the other bitch is fine.
The movie is all about beauty and nothing else. It has some weird ideas too. Like this bullshit:
“You can always tell when beauty is manufactured and if you aren’t born beautiful you never will be.”
The Narcissus comparison is clumsily emphasised in the scene where Elle starts making out with her own reflection inside the camera. This is meant to represent the moment Narcissus falls in love with his reflection in the water. And when her fate is also sealed.
The problem is, Elle never really does anything wrong. She is pretty and she takes opportunities. There’s no moral. Except possibly: don’t be good at modelling because necrophiliac lesbians will eat you.
Dean, Elle’s (brief) boyfriend, thinks that beauty is more than skin deep, that: “It’s what’s inside that counts.” But when confronted with the truth, that he wouldn’t have even stopped to look at Jesse if she wasn’t beautiful, he has no answer. When she confronts him later he asks if she wants to be like the other shallow models. She replies “I don’t wanna be them, they wanna be me.”
Very little else happens. Elle may or may not get raped by a peculiarly under utilised Keanu Reeves. Her room is invaded by a mountain lion that represents danger (wow, what a metaphor). And a model sucks her blood. Everyone wants a piece of Elle!
The overwhelming atmosphere of the movie is one of empty meandering. It feels directionless, shallow and vaccuous. There is talent here, but a lack of ideas and cohesion. It’s a cold, dull and amateurish. It looks good but has no substance. A fitting metaphor for the fashion industry, but not intentional.