‘The Neon Demon’ Is Beautiful And Completely Bizarre: BUST Review

by Erika W. Smith

If you’ve ever watched The Valley Of The Dolls and wished for just a little more cannibalism, necrophilia, sexual violence, and mountain lions, The Neon Demon is the film for you. Director Nicolas Winding Refn’s (Drive, Only God Forgives) begins the Neon Demon with a familiar story: Elle Fanning stars as Jesse, a just-turned-sixteen naïve, talented ingenue who is immediately signed to a major modeling agency; Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks is great in a small but satisfying role as her agent.

Soon, Jesse finds herself surrounded by predatory industry veterans who can’t get enough of her unsophisticated charm. Chief among these predators is Ruby (Jena Malone), a friendly-seeming but duplicitous makeup artist whose interest in Jesse borders on obsession. Ruby has two minions, tanned, blonde models who are addicted to plastic surgery: Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee), who aren’t shy about hiding their antipathy towards Jesse.

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The Neon Demon’s weirdness builds slowly: A mountain lion appears in Elle’s motel room and is chased out by the creepy motel owner Hank (Keanu Reeves). Elle begins having horrific, sexually violent nightmares — or maybe they’re real. About two-thirds of the way through the film, the movie takes a bizarre turn that makes all the earlier cliches a little more forgivable.

Every review will say that the Neon Demon is aesthetically stunning, but that’s because it’s completely true. I’m usually bored by “visually stunning” movies, but even I was completely transfixed. Pulsing neon lights, shocking color contrasts, surprising angles, and glitter are everywhere. The very first shot of the film shows Jesse surrounded by neon lights and darkness, her face covered in sequins and her neck covered in fake blood as camera lights flash. This is a movie you’ll see in gifsets all over Tumblr this summer.

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You’ll also see plenty of thinkpieces. The film isn’t without problems — while Jena Malone’s character is twisty and captivating, she’s also a walking Psycho Lesbian trope. Elle Fanning is sexualized to the extreme, including a nude scene and a masturbation scene, in a way that made me want to go on a rant about the male gaze — especially considering Fanning’s age at time of filming (16 and 17; she’s 18 now).

I’ll give the Neon Demon this: while it’s nowhere near perfect, it’s certainly interesting and unique. And in a summer full of superhero sequels, that might make it worth a watch — particularly if the theater has good air conditioning and excellent popcorn.

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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