• by Wes Singleton

Review: The Neon Demon, C

Rated R, 110 minutes

The old saying "beauty is only skin deep," is explored in bloody detail in the intriguing new Nicolas Winding Refn thriller "The Neon Demon," which gives an uneasy portrait of the underbelly of modeling in L.A. Essentially a 2-hour art house piece told in David Lynch-style, "Neon" is filled with a weird, pretentious vibe that's both ponderous and hypnotic, and nearly falling apart at the end. When teenage aspiring model Jesse (Elle Fanning) moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women (Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee) who will take any means necessary to get what she has. Directed, co-written and produced by Danish film director Refn, the man behind such divisive but never dull films as "Drive" and "Only God Forgives," his stylish but uneven new drama is filled with some typically weird Refn-ian moments: sex with a corpse, cannibalism, off-kilter sensuality and violence, though it has some interesting ones, and is well-cast too. Particularly inspired is the casting of fair-skinned, doe-eyed Fanning as the young model with natural beauty and big aspirations; she casts a glow on the film that will transfix even when the film turns strange, which happens frequently. Her transformation from innocence to hot model is an engaging one, particularly a couple of modeling scenes: one in gold paint (shown here) as well as her first catwalk strut where she really gains confidence. As her friends and colleagues who are infatuated with her, Heathcote and Lee are both striking, while Malone is both brave and controversial in the film's most-talked about role, including an uncomfortable scene with a corpse. The pulsating, hypnotic music from acclaimed composer Cliff Martinez ("Drive" and "Contagion") adds additional substance, though ultimately "Demon" disappoints, taking a nose dive off the catwalk late in the film. Refn struggles with coherency problems in the third act, especially that over-the-top, blood-soaked ending that could've been easily implied - instead the metaphor is taken quite seriously, that young beauty is often devoured by the older lions in the pack. "The Neon Demon" is heavily stylized, hypnotically weird and never dull, that could easily be used as a deterrent to go into modeling.

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