When The Neon Demon was being sold the focus was on the look and feel of the movie coming from writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn. The movie delivers on that, offering a fever dream of a story that’s heavy on style and light on substance.
The story follows Jesse (Elle Fanning), a young ingenue who’s new to Los Angeles and looking to break into modeling. She has little experience but immediately clicks with many movers and shakers in the industry because of an indefinable “it” factor she seems to contain. Her meteoric rise means she makes lots of enemies among the girls who are already there as they’re passed over for her. It all takes a very twisted turn at the end as we find out just how far some people are willing to go to have success.
The campaign promised a movie that was doused in neon blues and pinks and featured everyone being as cold and emotionally distance as possible. Everyone sports the kind of dead-eyed, soulless stare that’s often mocked by those who see the same look coming from every fashion ad they pass on the street. What it didn’t do was go too deeply into Jesse’s story, showing that she’s a young up-and-coming model but not really going too far to show what that means or what kinds of trials she’ll have to undergo.
That promise is more or less delivered on. The entire movie is an experiment in mood-lighting and how cold the director can make the performances. It’s saying something when Keanu Reeves in a cameo as the manager of a sleazy motel is one of the more emotive members of the cast. And despite the presence of a cougar in the trailer, the campaign doesn’t fully reveal just the level of insanity that the movie delivers, a level that’s substantial.