Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Indie Review: Neon Demon (2016)

       There's a scene where one character says how the main protagonist has that special "thing" or "it" factor. To me, that can also refer to Elle Fanning because she helped me get through this slight mess.

      The Neon Demon follows the story of a young model named Jesse (Elle Fanning) who moves to Los Angeles and as she gets her start is told that she has a special "thing" and is going to be big. However, a few fellow models (Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote) that haven't broken out yet start to become jealous of Jesse and seek to devour her for that special "thing" she has.

     I'll start right off with Elle Fanning's performance. She is able to guide the audience on her character's journey thanks to her youthful charisma and constantly expressive yet enigmatic eyes. Without her performance, the movie wouldn't be as watchable. I also want to give a shoutout to a few of her female co-stars. Jena Malone plays a makeup artist that Jesse quickly becomes friends with and she steals every scene she's in, providing a lot of spunk and sympathy to her portrayal. Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote are also quite terrific as the two models jealous of Jesse's ascent and despite their similarities in appearance, each of them has a distinct personality. Gigi, played by Bella Heathcote, is rather cold and arrogant as she brags about the different surgeries she's had while Sarah, played by Abbey Lee, is quite visible in her anguish and sadness. One of the film's best sequences is a scene when Sarah and Jesse are auditioning and when Sarah gets rejected while Jesse makes the cut, Lee is able to let her expressive face do the talking and you're wondering how else she is going to react in the next scene.

      Next, I'll discuss the score by Cliff Martinez. The score is without a doubt the best score I've heard from a film that came out this year thus far. It is a very eclectic blend of a 70's-style horror composition like in last year's It Follows and modern techno-pop. It likely won't happen but Martinez deserves serious awards consideration.

      I also really liked the cinematography by Natasha Braier. The way Braier shoots it makes it appear as if we are being transported into a colorful, kaleidoscopic underworld and it provides a nice homage to the classic horror film Suspiria by Dario Argento.

      Despite the film being directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, who helmed the far superior Drive, oddly enough, the direction is the film's weakest element. There are some directing choices that he made which simply didn't really work or come together. At first, the film serves as a demonstration of the modeling or entertainment industry with a young fresh face ascending right off the bat while older faces that have been around longer watch and grow jealous. I liked that aspect of it. Yet towards the end, it becomes a piece of graphic torture porn and the first two thirds, which serve as more of a drama, make the final act seem pretty out of place in my opinion. If Refn wanted to make a horror film as well as a demonstration of the modeling industry, it could've easily been done by weaving in horror elements throughout the story and not just suddenly making a short horror film in the last act. It just seems like a complete copout.

      There are also some sequences that seemed pretty out of place and unneeded. There's a scene where Jesse finds a cougar in her motel room and I have absolutely no idea what place that had in the story. Plus, we get a good amount of scenes with Jesse slowly posing for the camera and they just dragged the film down and made it go longer than it needed to be. The film is almost 2 hours but it could've been a little shorter.

       Overall, The Neon Demon is a rumpled yet incredibly stylish film saved by its gorgeous cinematography, killer score, and luminous performance by lead actress Elle Fanning. The direction by Nicolas Winding Refn is quite uneven but the only time the film is unwatchable is during the final act.

Grade: B