Currently available for free to Prime members on Amazon, The Neon Demon is 117 agonizing minutes of “LOL wut?” and “WHY DOES EVERYONE TAKE SO DAMN LONG TO ANSWER?!?!?!”
tl;dr: Don’t waste your time. Not even for free.
The long version (no big spoilers, not that they would make sense, anyway):
Technically, it’s supposed to be a horror film but this is Nicholas Winding Refn we’re talking about. Did you see Drive? It’s like he asked himself, “What’s cooler than a sociopath stunt driver in a scorpion jacket with an emo-pop soundtrack? Models!” As a result, instead of building up the fear, his trademark silence, stoicism and unanswered questions mostly just lead to a creeping sense of boredom.
If you removed all the seconds of film where people are actually speaking, it would still clock in ~90 minutes. If you need to go to the bathroom, wait until someone asks a question, then go. You’ll be back before the other person answers.
And that’s a shame because the cast isn’t bad, they just don’t have much to work with. Or rather, they seem to be starring in different movies so they’re not working with anyone. It’s like Refn pitched different film synopsis to each actor and they just rolled with it, content with the knowledge that they — and they alone -- were in on the secret plot.
Elle Fanning, as the lead, is grossly miscast in a film noir about a newly arrived small-town girl in the cut-throat modeling business. Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote are in a satire about “old” models desperately clinging to 19. Karl Glusman is starring in a problematic romance about a 20-something white knight who is kinda dating a 16 year old maybe runaway/maybe orphan. Keanu Reeves is in a drama about a cynical motel owner who yells “Mikey!” a lot (Skinny Pete!). Alessandro Nivola, who isn’t even credited, is in a meaner version of The Devil Wears Prada.
For all its failed aspirations, though, there is one standout — Jena Malone. She gets the longest pauses, the most inexplicable backstory and even makes out with a corpse at one point, so to describe the role she was dealt as “pure and utter shit” doesn’t really do it justice. (I cannot even begin to connect the dots of what we know about her character — they don’t make any sense without major suspension of disbelief.) And yet, she’s the only person in the film with anything to actually do. I might be giving her more credit than she deserves, but sister mounted a dead chick and I was like, “Okay. [checks watch] Something is finally, actually *happening*!” That something was fucking weird, but at least she got to emote. And it is through Malone that we finally learn what we’re watching: a three-act version of Silence of the Single White Lambs... that’s missing its second and third acts. If Refn had made that horror movie, this would be a completely different review.
Instead, I was left with a lot of questions like, “Wait... what?” “Is she...” “Did they just...?” “Okay, but if they did... then, wait... what?” And, “Shouldn’t that be digested by now...?”
Oh, and the “Neon Demon” is fame. Or narcisism. Or the perversion of beauty. Or something. There’s no literal demon. And that’s too bad, because a neon demon would have been so much cooler.
Final Tidbit: Christina Hendricks has a cameo as one of only two people in the whole movie who doesn’t speak like a glitching robot. Keanu Reeves is the other. Just take a moment to let that sink in.