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Malone (left) and Fanning in The Neon Demon. The anorexic plot and skinny characters (literally) also make this movie as beautifully superficial as the modelling industry it is sending up.

Self-indulgence ruins this beautiful-looking film

Sep 23, 2016 5:50 AM

WITH some directors, you can guess exactly what kind of film you are in for.

That can be said of Nicolas Winding Refn, whose consistently masterful eye for visually striking neon-lit images always makes his movies look like pop art coming to life on the big screen.

He couldn't have chosen better subjects to work with for his latest outing; with the cast of leggy female models-actors led by Elle Fanning turning The Neon Demon into a walking-and-talking-equivalent of a fashion magazine.

Too bad the anorexic plot and skinny characters (literally) also make this as beautifully superficial as the modelling industry it is sending up.

Written by Refn, Mary Laws and Polly Stenham, the film is also stuffed with lines like "Beauty isn't everything ... It's the only thing" and "I don't wanna be like them; they wanna be like me" which only a fashion victim would spew and try to pass off as life's philosophy.

Accompanying it are scenes of models working and b*tching at one another, in an attempt to make up The Neon Demon's very thin storyline.

It goes on for so long by the time Refn decides to pull out the shock ending - as he is known to do in his films - he shouldn't be too surprised half the audience might have long given up.

No wonder The Neon Demon, like the splatter-fest Only God Forgives (2013) before it, received both cheers and jeers at their Cannes premieres.

Fanning plays Jesse, a girl-next-door from small-town Georgia who moves to glitzy Los Angeles to try her hand at modelling.

She befriends make-up artist Ruby (Jena Malone) who shows her around and helps her open a few doors in the trade.

Her fresh-faced natural beauty turns the heads of agents, photographers and designers; and Jesse is tipped to become the fashion industry's next big thing.

But there is a price to pay for success and the city's new glamour puss unwittingly also incurs the wrath of other older and more established models like Sarah (Abbey Lee) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote) who will do anything to stop Jesse's rise to the top.

The plot might sound easy to follow here but explaining how necrophilia and vampires find their way into the film is best left to the audience to decipher.

Refn does little favour for himself by choosing style over substance and The Neon Demon is too self-indulgent even by the Danish filmmaker's own standards with its wonky plot dragged out at a snail's pace.

For that, expect the love-hate relationship with the critics and movie-goers to continue, even if you think you know (or get) Refn's brand of film-making.

Rating: C-