The Neon Demon: Casting Review

theneondemonThe Neon Demon is a twisted and daring horror film by Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn…and by ‘daring’ it is safe to say that it was a shot-in-the-dark for this underdeveloped storyline that leaves the audience mystified; both by beauty and by sheer bewilderment. The film is brilliantly cast with familiar faces as well as stars on the rise, however with Refn’s well-known artistic pauses and embellishment on unnecessary scenes, it may make for a few awkward moments in the theater.

The movie opens with Jesse (Elle Fanning) on a photo shoot after just arriving in Los Angeles. She is an immediate hit in the fashion world and lands a contract with a top-notch modeling agency. Jesse is the epitome of natural beauty, which sends her newfound competitors Gigi (Belle Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee) into a fit of rage. After befriending makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone), Jesse gets strung along in a series of labyrinth-like situations in a world filled with pretentious Hollywoods socialites and blood-sucking photographers just waiting for their next feed. The stylized concept of the movie works well visually as there are constant flashes of bright and glittery images to fixate on…but as far as taking you on a journey with the characters, well…it pretty much just leaves your proverbial movie-goer hands reaching out to grasp for something stable to hang onto. The narrative towards the end of the movie could have fit in act one to give us more of a backstory…but alas, there was none and you just had to wait it out while still having lofty dreams that there might be some kind of point to this whole story.

One thing that NWR did right was thinking outside of the box when it comes to casting. Instead of casting people who always play the beautiful girl or always plays the villain, he did what one would call ‘against type’, i.e. Jena Malone and Keanu Reeves. Jena usually plays a smart and quirky girl-next-door, but her character in Neon Demon is about as twisted as it gets, shocking the audience again and again with every scene. The director calls her “a force of nature, fearless, an artist herself…” She says this is her favorite role of anything she’s ever done. The director dittos all of this with Keanu and stated “we’re just very lucky people were willing to be in the movie.”

Elle Fanning is a vision in the film and pulls off the soft-spoken ballerina type well. Indeed young yet no stranger to Hollywood, she embodied the naive newcomer with flying colors. She is delicate and angelic and even with the unbelievably long shots of her kissing herself in a mirror or walking above the city in a pretty gown, her acting was superb and believable of a girl on the verge of a breakdown at any moment. With each film she’s in there is an inkling that she might be catching up to her sister, Dakota, and even surpassing her.

Keanu Reeves has what one would call an extended cameo in the film as a creepy motel manager. His character is certainly off-putting but there’s something a bit forced about his anger. In the moments where it could have gone a little Psycho on us, the scenes were only heard through a wall and not actually seen…which adds another dud to the list of unfulfilled potential.

Jena Malone is a sort of saving grace, as her dialogue usually has some kind of grounding substance to carry us a bit further into the story despite the confusing plots twists. Abbey Lee gives an equally stellar performance as the envious Sarah, proving her to be a model-turned-actress who actually can act.

Overall Neon Demon proved to be visually stimulating with some genuine moments from the actors, yet doesn’t really deliver any kind of concise story to ponder after leaving the theater.

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