Film: The Neon Demon

I spent most of The Neon Demon (2016) wanting it to be a weirder, smarter, more interesting film than it was, and even into its final moments I kept hoping it would turn the corner to justify the investment. But this one just kind of fizzles, a striking but pseudo-profound art film. It’s about an ethereal, teenaged hopeful named Jesse (Elle Fanning), who arrives in LA determined to pursue her dream of being the next modeling It Girl. She falls under the encouraging wing of friendly makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone), but as her career gets off to a blazing fast start, her success makes her the envy of the scene, and she gets in way over her head as the cruelty and abuse of the fashion world takes an unexpected, horrific toll.

There’s an impressive confidence to The Neon Demon’s quiet fantastical horror, but ultimately the confidence is unwarranted; this is a glacially paced exercise in self-importance. It seems to be reaching for an unsettling, Lynchian ambience, but in the end its metaphors are too on the nose and its resolving, shock-tactic revelations are an anticlimactic snore. There’s a kernel of an intriguing idea here, but the film never manages to elevate it.

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