The Neon Demon

Written by Michael Clawson


Visually and musically luscious, The Neon Demon is the latest great example of a film that rewards you for watching it in a movie theater. A dark space, large screen, and enveloping sound system (e.g. SIFF’s Egyptian theater) substantially magnifies the immersive nature of NWR’s cautionary tale about beauty, vanity, and jealousy, and allows the film’s exaggerated, bright, pulsating, and other-worldly atmosphere to firmly take hold of you.

Whether or not the narrative measures up to the film’s stylistic achievements is more debatable. The story follows Jesse (Elle Fanning), a teenager from the Midwest hoping to make it as a model in LA, whose innocence and naïvete is gradually replaced by stunning self-assurance as she becomes aware of the power of her physical self and the lengths to which women would (and do) go to look like her. She’s increasingly exposed to the dangers of being envied, but her new found confidence blinds her from the closing in of circling sharks in fashion model form.

Jesse’s rapid ascendancy, and ultimate demise, functions as a rather straight-forward critique of an industry based on supremely shallow values and the jealousy and viciousness, even amongst supposed friends, that it cultivates. As a foundation for the trajectory of the story, Jesse’s emergence and downfall is compelling. What limits the film’s impact, ironically, is the lengths to which it goes to make its point. Unlike Drive, in which the stylized and extreme violence felt like a shocking but believable outcome, the grotesquerie into which the The Neon Demon occasionally dips feels more like directorial over-excitement. But it’s hard to criticize the periodic missteps when, on the whole, you can’t wait to see the movie again.

Michael Clawson originally posted this review on Letterboxd 06/25/16

Available on Prime Video

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