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By Megan Bianco
The 2011 action-thriller Drive was the best and worst thing to ever happen to Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn. Considered by many film fanatics to be a modern classic and a big inspiration on indie thrillers in the last few years, Drive should have improved Refn’s direction and future films. But instead, the artsy, grotesque director has used most of his success and newfound creative control to be primarily indulgent and pretentious. Take most recently his new film The Neon Demon.
Like Drive, Neon Demon is set in the seedy, underbelly of Los Angeles, but this time with models and the fashion community. Sixteen-year-old Jessie (Elle Fanning) has just arrived in town with some test headshots for agency applications. While she has completely captured the attention of photographer Jack (Desmond Harrington), make-up artist Ruby (Jena Malone), agency head Roberta (Christina Hendricks) and a nameless fashion designer (Alessandro Nivola), fellow models Sarah (Abbey Lee) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote) feel instant competition.
Keanu Reeves also appears as the sleazy owner of the motel where Jessie is staying. There are a lot of quality things going on in NWR’s The Neon Demon—Cliff Martinez’s tight score, the flashy cinematography, the pretty ladies and the performances from Lee and Heathcote. But everything after the initial build-up in the first half is all blown apart by the narrative mess with the film’s plot twist. There’s nothing but shock value that comes off as cheap more than clever. It’s not attracting audiences to the theaters, and they’re not missing much.