Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Neon Demon, or: Beauty Is Skin (and Blood) Deep

Someday we will watch a film about what a nice place LA is and how completely un-problematic the fashion industry is (or not).  Today is not that day–it is, after all, Anxiety August.

The Film:

The Neon Demon

The Premise:

The fashion industry is disturbing.  Really disturbing, and possibly cannibalistic.

The Ramble:

Elle Fanning plays Jesse, an aspiring model who has recently arrived in LA.  She’s getting possibly the creepiest pics ever for her portfolio courtesy of her amateur photographer friend/boyfriend/acquaintance?  Not 100% sure on this one yet.  She lounges on a sofa with blood dripping down her arm as the camera.  Dramatically.  Pans away.

A woman in a brightly lit dressing room looks at herself in the mirror, wearing a shiny dress and with chest and arm covered in blood.
Just another day at work…

Jesse’s magnetism/beauty/je ne sais quoi lands her a party invite from make-up artist Ruby.  At the party, she meets other models who are probably 10 years or so older (aka ancient in terms of modeling) and therefore immediately loathe her.  Our unholy trinity corners her in the bathroom and asks all kinds of overly personal questions about her sex life and family.  Ruby is reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally intensely into Jesse and applies appropriately named Red Rum lipstick to her.

Jesse scores representation from a competitive modeling agency that recognizes she will go far as a model.  However, first she needs much better pics for her portfolio, which will be provided by really intense shaved head dude (yeah, I wasn’t paying the most attention ever to all of the names here).  At the photo shoot, the photographer asks everyone to leave and for Jesse to take off her clothes.  It gets weirder when he covers her in gold paint in the messiest and least efficient way possible besides maybe if he had used a pastry brush.

After the shoot, Ruby says she’s looking out for Jesse and insists she call if she ever needs anything.

A makeup artist with a brush leans close to the woman she's applying makeup to.
“And I mean anything…”  *wink*

Meanwhile, Jesse is sort of dating the amateur photographer who took her first round of pics.  It’s hard to say what she’s feeling most of the time as she seems to be a bit detached from everything, though there are a few moments when she reveals insecurity about her talents.  It’s sort of sweet if anything can be said to be sweet about this movie?  But you know this is all being set up for it to fall dramatically as if from a diving board.  Oops…I’m getting ahead of myself.

Meanwhile, in a cameo I don’t completely understand, Keanu Reeves plays the manager of the shady motel where Jesse is staying.  They’re never going to be the best of friends, especially after a puma destroys her room.  Yeah.  An actual puma.

A woman in a dress stands over the Los Angeles skyline at night.
This is a pretty shot, but I also sort of expected song and dance in the style of La La Land.

Anyway, things are going swimmingly well for Jesse on the career front.  She manages to swipe a major gig from one of the models from earlier, then lands another job with the other one, who has struggled for years to get where she is.

Predictably, things start to go downhill with Jesse’s boyfriend (or at least guy she’s gone on some dates with).  When she has nowhere else to turn to, she goes to stay with Ruby.  Two guesses about whether this ends well.

The Rating:

3.5/5 PPHs

My review is destined to be biased as, based on the title, I expected demons to appear explicitly in this film.  Perhaps that’s just an indication of our usual fare for the Blog Collab, i.e. veering just a bit farther away from the intellectual.  If you’re looking for demons, you’ll probably be disappointed; however, you will see a lot of blood in this.  SO MUCH BLOOD.  Also slow, dramatic face close-ups.  If we had cut those in half, this film would have probably been about 30 mins shorter.

This does take a pretty interesting angle and makes it clear that this film is a vehicle for social commentary, but it’s not particularly fun to watch for a few reasons:

  1.  No one is particularly likeable or even that interesting as a character.  You will have brief glimpses when characters seem slightly more likeable,  but those moments are usually less than genuine.
  2. All of the photo shoots are really suggestive, which is clearly in service of the film’s message.  It doesn’t make them less voyeuristic and uncomfortable to watch.
  3. It’s really irritating to hear all the goddamn time how beautiful Jesse is and how she has that certain something.  Part of the message here seems to be that all of this talk of magnetism and charisma is a bunch of shit, but it’s still pretty distracting.  See also:  it would’ve been more satisfying to see explicitly that Jesse was a demon or worshiping Satan or something.

Not a bad film, but it might appeal more to the film school crowd than this simple blogger with a strong interest in B-movie monsters.

Would Christa take a dive with this one or send it off to be eaten by pumas?  Find out in her review here!