The Neon Demon takes an arty puke on the fashion industry



By Steve Newton

L.A.’s high-fashion industry gets eaten alive and puked back up in Danish provocateur Nicolas Winding Refn’s depraved and baffling The Neon Demon, a psychosexual satire on the quest for female beauty masquerading as an arthouse horror flick.

Elle Fanning stars as virginal 16-year-old Jesse, whom we first see with glittery eye makeup and a slashed throat, posing for amateur photos by hopeful boyfriend-to-be Dean (Karl Glusman). Ready to take her career up a notch, Jesse applies at one of Tinseltown’s top agencies, where her fellow models reek of jealousy and hunger for that special something she’s got. “That deer-in-the-headlights thing is exactly what they want,” advises makeup artist and lesbian necrophiliac Ruby (Jena Malone).

As she makes her way towards the top of the hypercompetitive fashion scene, blowing away a pretentious designer (Alessandro Nivolo) at a meticulously shot, underwear ’n’ heels–only audition, Jesse also has to deal with whatever bizarre shit Refn and cowriters Mary Laws and Polly Stenham throw her way. Like finding a cougar prowling inside her dingy room in a rundown Pasadena motel managed by sleazy degenerate Hank (Keanu Reeves). The naive Jesse is tougher than you might think, though. “I’m not as helpless as I look,” she claims after ultracreepy photographer Jack (Desmond Harrington) gets her to strip naked and be sensuously slathered in gold paint.

As Jesse’s success grows, so does the envy-driven hatred of her rivals, leading to betrayal and a slasher-flick-style showdown. Traditionally minded horror fans may be thrown by the movie’s surreal sensibilities and lack of anything resembling an actual plot, but they do get to see one paper-thin model violently vomit up a human eyeball before another emaciated fashion victim makes it a low-cal snack, so there’s that.


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