The Neon Demon (2016)

I have never really been into fashion. Well, at least not in the way that people actually in the fashion industry. I like clothes well enough and I often imagine what characters I write are wearing. I admire the clothes of people I see both in real life and in fictional worlds. I particularly like dresses and three-piece suits. However, I have no idea what is trendy and that world is kind of intimidating to me. I cannot even imagine how people decide what the next big look is. I would be eternally afraid of falling on my face because I thought something looked cool and everybody else disagreed. I knew a lot of costume designers back in school and they were all quirky, weird, and exotic in the best ways. I remember there was this one girl who had dyed her hair jet black on one side and paper white on the other side. There was a perfect line down the middle. I have a very visual imagination so I often do think of these sorts of things when I design a character. However, I sometimes find it hard to express all of that. I have also never really pushed hard to develop those skills. I have many friends who are blessed with visual arts skills but that is mostly because they have worked at practicing them. I also think about how cutthroat that world is. When I talked to such people in college about the possibility of Broadway, I was told that somebody would have to die to open up a spot. That was pretty grim. I can only imagine what must happen to compete with the likes of Vera Wang or Tommy Hilfiger.

On top of all of that, I can only imagine the difficulties that many women go through. Women are held to a higher standard when it comes to being visually appealing. The fashion world has long been criticized for this sort of thing. Models are encouraged to starve and drug themselves to obtain and retain an impossibly ‘beautiful’ appearance. Then came the rise of cosmetic surgery where women were pressured into getting actual surgery to ‘improve’ their body’s beauty. When women have to be tortured, drugged, and sliced up in order to be deemed pretty, that sounds like a horror movie to me. The pressures to be perfect come from society and the origin of those pressures are from men. It is no secret that men have dominated society and have used cultural conventions to suppress and oppress women. Of course, men have also enlisted women to police themselves so that women criticize each other or use gossip to police ‘beauty’. This is an age-old method of control that has been used on pretty much any minority or protected class in history. These can be tough obstacles to overcome especially since they are not actually physical limitations but are instead almost purely psychological. This sort of conditioning starts at birth and continues pretty much forever. Slowly, we are starting to figure things out but we have a long way to go.

The first thing I noticed was the startling use of silence which feel like they were used to cause unease. The dialogue especially had me in suspense as I waited through pauses. Not the usual bad acting pauses but weird alien speech patterns that definitely made me anxious for what was going to happen. The music is full of modern tonal music that helps to ramp up the tension. The production values are awesome. Because the movie covers the world of fashion and modeling, they put a lot of work into making that world beautiful. However, because it is so beautiful, it also makes it look strange and unreal. That sort of bleeds into the rest of the scenes as they look almost too polished, too superficially pretty. Seeing such fragile beauty juxtaposed against the seedier sides of life makes the shadows all the darker. Then the ‘real’ world just seems to get as strange as the fake one. It had a very disorienting effect on me so much show that in one scene I literally yelled: “What the Fuck!?” Of course, there are plenty of the traditional horror elements like gore and violence. The effects are among the best that I have seen and they were very disturbing.

The movie stars Elle Fanning as a sixteen-year-old model freshly arrived in Los Angeles to start her modeling career. Of course, she is immediately correctly told (told not warned) that the industry is just waiting to consume her. She is portrayed as having such flawless good looks, the epitome of human perfection. A lot of the movie hangs on her portrayal of a naive young woman. However, she is not completely unaware as she mentions that she is modeling because it is her only marketable skill. Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcoate play models that have been around a little longer and they are excellent at being these crazy model harpies. However, one of the big things all of the male actors do is they treat the women with such active contempt and aggression that it is hard not to feel bad for even the less nice ones. The guys are really too good at showing this naked emotion of hunger and hate that I wanted to slap them. It literally made me scared and angry. This includes a small role from Keanu Reeves. A lot also has to be said about Jenna Malone who plays a makeup artist who befriends Fanning and her friendly performance somehow added to the tension I was feeling.

Overall, I really liked the movie. It was an unsettling thriller that left me feeling all clenched throughout. It showed the accurate portrayal of the way that men treat women in general and specifically how the fashion and modeling industry hurts women’s psyches. Nothing is off topic, drugs, beauty, plastic surgery, jealousy and so on. I would compare it most to Black Swan which had a similar take on the psychological damage and pressure that being a girl can provide. While there are elements of traditional horror, it is the psychological pressure and tension that really got to me.  I felt kind of sick after it but kind of in a good way.

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