Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Neon Demon (2016)

The Neon Demon is exactly what I was expecting. And this isn't necessarily a bad thing, although I wish it has surprised me just a little.

Much like Starry Eyes, this movie can be boiled down thus: the power of beauty, and how far people are willing to go, to get it. 

Or alternatively: the director of Drive does a horror film about models. Or, it's Showgirls meets Drive oozing through a filter of giallo? I could come up with these all night :)

Jesse is a sixteen year old newcomer model in LA. Despite her inexperience she definitely has the 'it' factor, and everyone who crosses her path can see that. As a result, she mostly glides through her days contending with fellow models, a sleazy motel landlord (Keanu Reeves!) and the unrequited affections of male and female acquaintances. As another character puts it, Jesse enters a room "and it's the middle of winter, and you are the sun".

We wonder how long this can last, however, as Jesse's success starts to taint her small town naivety and kindness. She feeds on the flashbulbs, the adoration, the fact she can "be the sun" without even trying... and she becomes something more powerful. With this ascension though, comes a greater threat of being overthrown.

Where Starry Eyes drained the colour from LA, The Neon Demon chooses the opposite approach. This film looks, appropriately, like an editorial shoot for a fashion magazine, and it feels distinctly otherworldly. It's slow and sensual, with the titular neon drenching much of its look.

This is another horror with yet another synth soundtrack... and yet I'm still not sick of them! Cliff Martinez creates sounds that perfectly match this glossy, alien world.

Most characters are fleshed out to a serviceable degree, with tropes like bitchy fellow models, cutthroat agent, clingy nice guy who discovered her, and absurdly artistic designers and photographers. Jesse herself, as well as the first "friend" she makes (a make-up artist played by Jena Malone, below left) give the viewer more to sink their teeth into - but barely. The latter in particular appears to be a story all to herself, though we are only ever given a small glimpse of it.

I don't mind a film leaving me with some questions - what a boring world it would be if everything made sense, right? - and this pill is definitely easier to swallow with the sugar coating of the stunning visual aspect. I can also see why a concentration on style over substance makes complete sense here. That said, this film would have blown my fucking mind if it had just grabbed some of those loose ends and worked a bit harder to tidy them up.

So I would warn anyone not open to a horror film heavy on the eye-candy and drowsy symbolism to avoid.

However, if like me you're a sucker for neon, high-fashion editorial visuals, synthy soundtracks and blood (so much blood) I would say get a hold of this and just let it all wash over you. I've a feeling it will benefit from a repeat viewing, too.

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