Movie News & Reviews

In flashy ‘Neon Demon,’ the story is as thin as the fashion models

Elle Fanning stars in “The Neon Demon.”
Elle Fanning stars in “The Neon Demon.”

The Neon Demon, the latest mind-bender from out-there director Nicolas Winding Refn, is a two-hour fever dream about back-stabbing models whose bodies are as thin as their personalities. Sometimes it’s bizarre in a good, David Lynch-kind of way; other times, it’s bizarre for the sake of being bizarre.

Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives) gets off to a promising start with a bloody photo shoot in an austere Los Angeles studio. Cliff Martinez’s dazzling score sets a seductive, creepy tone. Then we meet aspiring model Jesse (Elle Fanning), who has been in town for two seconds before a mega-agent (Christina Hendricks, deliciously vile) tabs her as the next “It girl.”

Jesse also catches the eye of Dean (Karl Klusman), the only person with anything resembling a moral compass, and draws the ire of several ambitious models, who appear to be cast-offs from a vampire brood on True Blood. At this point, Refn is setting up a preposterously fun, if twisted, little story — or so we think.

But as Neon Demon plods on, we realize that we’re slowly going nowhere, that we’re witnessing a series of visually arresting set-pieces that are nothing else but visually arresting set-pieces. In its latter half, the movie doesn’t have a graceful way to get off the runway, so it resorts to shock value, including an embarrassing scorned-lesbian scene and a moment of necrophilia that’s there just to be there.

To be sure, Refn’s considerable flair keeps us alert with some eyeball-popping moments, and some of the actors in brief roles shine. In addition to Hendricks, Keanu Reeves stands out as a sleazy hotel manager, as does Desmond Harrington, who plays a demented photographer.

But these pleasures can’t cover up a nagging problem: We don’t care an iota about any of these vapid models, who are props instead of characters. And the narratively challenged film seems conflicted: It critiques our obsession with models and beauty and style, even as it obsesses about those same things. There is a lot of flash but little substance.

Movie review

‘The Neon Demon’

Rated R for disturbing violent content, bloody images, graphic nudity, a scene of aberrant sexuality and language. 1:57. Fayette Mall, Richmond, Winchester, Woodhill.