“Neon Demon” is the sort of piece that might make “Mean Girls” or “Heathers” blush but it is the texture of society to push things farther. The metaphorical styling of Nicolas Winding Refn who made his splash in “Drive” shows how the incompetence of passion melds with the human psyche. Here the beauty myth, seen in its many forms, transcends the notion of beauty to one of ambition…the texture that being almost the best isn’t enough. Elle Fanning comes into her own here playing still the young ingenue but with a naivete and blind fury of ignorance that infuriates the models around her. Refn populated the film with many models and as the ending scene attests there is a sense of retribution in its sarcasm. Fanning’s character follows a path of wanton identity but one where the backwards armpits of LA both feed and nuture her in haunting ways. Keanu Reeves, who revels at times in darker textures, add a small intention of star power but in a role that paints back his indie roots in “River’s Edge” and “My Own Private Idaho”. But as good as Fanning is at points, the movie’s heart and wretched soul below to Jena Malone who again shows her ability to stretch her boundaries. There is an Oscar winner glimpsing inside her. Jodie Foster definitely saw that in her in earlier films…a mantle somewhat taken up earlier by Kristen Stewart, who like her former beau Robert Pattinson, is not taking the big paychecks but instead pursuing more character-based work which ultimately will give them legs in the long run. The other star in addition to Winding Refn’s blood and neon-stoked aesthetic is the synth driven beauty of a score by Cliff Martinez. It truly drives the film. The commentary, although unremarkable, is Fanning’s first commentary in which she is accompanied by Winding Refn. The other feature shows an element of the thinking behind the score which again is one of the movie’s many strong points. “Neon Demon” is a dark parable of sorts and, as always, Winding Refn’s worlds, like it or not, draw one in.
By Tim Wassberg