tek's rating: maybe "meh and a quarter" or maybe just "meh"

The Neon Demon (R)
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other review sites: Black List; Bloody Disgusting; Dread Central; Modern Horrors; PopHorror

Before I saw this, I expected I'd put my review under "psychological horror" (probably because that's what Wikipedia called it). While watching it... well, for most of the movie it didn't really seem like any sort of horror, but it gets there eventually. When it does, it seems more like a slasher, but I guess the stuff leading up to that point could be considered a "psychological" film, if not exactly of the horror variety. I also thought it might be more apt to call it a thriller, but I thought I'd more likely file it under "weird movies." By the time I'd seen the whole thing, I wasn't sure whether I wanted to bother writing a review at all. I finally decided I should, basically just because I liked the cast, and because I wanted to start listing films under Amazon Studios. (Presumably I'll like other Amazon Original films more than I liked this one, whenever I get around to watching them.) Anyway, because I didn't really care for this movie, I ultimately decided to list it under "meh." But I will say I've read that it's a very polarizing film; you either love it or hate it. And I can sort of understand appreciating it on some kind of artistic level, or as a commentary about... whatever it's meant to be a commentary about. But as for myself... I just didn't feel like any of the style (and it's hella stylish) or social commentary or the eventual horror aspects were enough to make me like the movie.

Anyway, it begins with a young model named Jesse (Elle Fanning) sprawled on a sofa, covered in blood, her throat apparently slit. Right away I thought, "She must just be posing for pictures," and of course I was right. After the photo shoot, she goes to clean off the fake blood, and meets a makeup artist named Ruby (Jena Malone). Ruby immediately befriends Jesse, and takes her to a party, where she introduces her to a couple of other models, Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee). The two of them are... let's say passive-aggressive.

Later, Jesse has an interview at a modeling agency, with a woman named Roberta (Christina Hendricks), who immediately signs her on as a client. (And this is the last time we'll see Roberta; it's just a cameo role.) She tells Jesse to tell everyone she's 19, which Jesse doubts anyone will believe. But it's not until a bit later, on a date with Dean, the photographer from the opening scene, that we learn her true age: 16. Before long, Jesse is photographed by a famous photographer named Jack McCarther (Desmond Harrington). And she is chosen to be in a fashion show by a designer named Robert Sarno (Alessandro Nivola). The fact that Jesse's rise in the fashion world is so meteoric only makes Gigi and Sarah hate her even more. It also makes Jesse fairly quickly start changing her naive, innocent personality into a bit more of a diva, I guess. Meanwhile.... she's been living in a motel room, where the manager is a jerk named Hank (Keanu Reeves).

Well... I'm not sure what else to say about the plot. Dean seems like a good guy. Ruby acts like she's Jesse's only real friend, though from the very start, I had my doubts about her. I got the feeling she was interested in more than friendship with Jesse, and I was right... but it wasn't until that was eventually made explicitly clear that we learn whether or not Jesse would reciprocate those feelings. And I'll just say... some disturbing things happen. And around that time is when the movie really starts getting excessively creepy, and moving into the horror genre. However, throughout the film there were stylistic elements of lighting that made things kind of trippy... Sometimes a room (like at a party or a fashion show) will be completely dark, but with sudden, jarring flashes of light that would probably freak out experienced ravers. And at least once, during a photo shoot, the room was the sort of total whiteness that, you know, you'd normally only see in a scene that's supposed to suggest, like, some sort of cosmic void, or whatever. I can't really explain all the visual effects in this movie, but it's very surreal. And then, even when things look fairly normal, I was often unsure whether the events being shown were actually happening, or if Jesse was dreaming, or hallucinating. And for a lot of the movie, I thought it could turn out that Jesse herself was some kind of psychopath. (It's mentioned early on that her parents are dead, and I couldn't help wondering if she might have killed them.) You know, maybe this would be the sort of movie where you think you know who the killer is (or killers are), and then the victim turns out to be the dangerous one. (There are actually a number of hints throughout the film that this might happen, but I won't reveal whether they were genuine clues or red herrings.) All I will say is that there are deaths in the movie, even if I won't say who dies or who kills who. I'll also say that murder is not necessarily the most disturbing thing that happens in the movie. (Maybe not even the second or third most disturbing thing.)

So, anyway... I dunno. I just think basically the movie didn't make a lot of sense. And I cannot use the word "disturbing" too many times in this review. Disturbing and weird and confusing.

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