CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS AND ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ELSE
Fittingly for a film about high-end fashion photography, the 2D image rules. Just as no glossy Summer Collection supplement is going to suggest that its models are anything other than blank, finely sculpted mannequins with perfect eyes and teeth and bottoms but the character and personality of a pebble, so Nicolas Winding Refn's arthouse horror thriller is equally unconcerned with the idea of his characters as plausible, relatable human beings. They're strategically posed in carefully composed and strikingly lit images, but you don't care about them any more than the dummies in Debenhams' windows. And if you don't care, what's the point?
Jessie (Elle Fanning) is sixteen and fresh off the bus, making unheard-of progress in the supermodel world thanks to her natural beauty, but stirring up jealousy from the plasticised Stepford dolls whose positions she's quickly usurping. Violence ensues, and the models have a terrifying fate in store for her - but first there's a giant cougar in her motel room, which is either an allegory of something or other (the horror of the Older Woman?) or more likely a non sequitur that goes nowhere. Keanu Reeves has fun as the sleazy motel manager, enthusing over the delights of the 13-year-old runaway in next door to Jessie: he's one of the few "real" people in the film but he's thoroughly despicable.
Our sympathies are more likely to sit with Ruby (Jena Malone), the make-up artist who befriends Jessie and who does manage to display some semblance of human individuality and emotion. until she has a gratuitous and revolting sex scene that has no dramatic, narrative or character purpose whatsoever and could have been cut completely at no cost to the film as a whole. [Side note: I do not subscribe to the Daily Mail's typically hysterical stance on The Neon Demon: they hadn't seen the film at that point, and my objections to That Scene are based on its lack of dramatic effect and not borne out of a combination of outdated moral hypocrisy and shrieking uncultured ignorance.]
So what's left? It looks beautiful and shiny with great use of bold, bright colour, and comparisons have been made to Dario Argento, with Cliff Martinez' tinkly electronic score supposedly echoing Goblin (though to me it sounds more like Jean-Michel Jarre). But for all that surface gloss and glitz there's very little else in there. Like Refn's heavily stylised previous films Drive and Only God Forgives, there's nothing inside the brightly wrapped packaging. You could argue it's a cautionary tale about the fashion modelling industry, and/or a Lynchian descent into Hell. Certainly it's got a finale that makes absolutely no sense and a pointless censor-baiting scene of outrageous depravity. Whatever: who cares?