The Neon Demon is a 2016 psychological horror film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, co-written by Mary Laws, Polly Stenham, and Refn, and starring Elle Fanning. The plot follows an aspiring model in Los Angeles whose beauty and youth generate intense fascination and jealousy within the industry. Supporting roles are played by Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Karl Glusman, Christina Hendricks, and Keanu Reeves.
An international co-production between France, Denmark, and the United States, the film competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, the third consecutive film directed by Refn to do so, following Drive (2011) and Only God Forgives (2013). In the United States, the film was released theatrically on 24 June 2016 by Amazon Studios and Broad Green Pictures. It opened to polarized reviews and was a box office failure, grossing a little over $3 million from a $7 million budget.
Sixteen-year-old aspiring model Jesse (Elle Fanning) has just moved from small-town Georgia to Los Angeles. Her first photoshoot is done by Dean (Karl Glusman). She meets makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone), who introduces fellow older models Sarah (Abbey Lee) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote). The three women are intrigued by Jesse’s natural beauty, as well as curious about her sexual proclivities. Jesse feigns experience in the latter.
Jesse gets signed by Roberta Hoffman (Christina Hendricks), the owner of a modelling agency, who tells her to pretend she is nineteen and refers her to a test shoot with a notable photographer, Jack McCarther (Desmond Harrington). Jesse goes on a date with Dean, but keeps his advances at bay. She returns to her motel room to find it ransacked and occupied by a feline resembling a cougar but roaring like a big cat. The unsavory manager, Hank (Keanu Reeves), demands that she pay for the damages. Jesse goes to the photo shoot with Jack, who calls for a closed set and covers her naked body in gold paint. The shoot is successful, and Gigi and Sarah begin envying Jesse’s youth, while Ruby is fascinated with her.
Jesse goes to a casting call for fashion designer Robert Sarno (Alessandro Nivola), where Sarah is also present. He pays no attention to Sarah but is entranced by Jesse. A distraught Sarah flees into a bathroom and shatters the mirror with anger and when Jesse enters, Sarah asks her how it feels to be the one who everyone admires. Jesse admits, “It’s everything.” Sarah lunges toward her, and Jesse accidentally cuts her hand on glass. Sarah immediately sucks the blood from Jesse’s hand. Jesse rushes back to her motel, and faints, hallucinating strange images. Dean arrives, pays Hank for the damage to her room, and treats Jesse’s wound. During their short interchange, Hank reveals a sexually predatory streak, gleans Dean’s unrequited interest in Jesse and tries to attract Dean’s attention to a 13-year old runaway girl whose room may be next to Jesse’s.
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