“The Neon Demon”, a fashion-horror film about a model trying to make it in Los Angeles, caused quite a ruckus at Cannes last month, and will undoubtedly shock some audiences when it opens in the U.S. next week. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, the movie’s hypnotic visuals and campy plotline paint a gory portrait of the business of beauty and so does Elle Fanning as Jesse, an aspiring model so green you practically want to take her into your arms and tell her not to talk to strangers.
Almost immediately, a series of perilous things happen to the character, including an encounter with a mountain lion and Keanu Reeves, but it becomes clear that none will be so terrifying as the fashion world she’s determined to be a part of. Opposite Jena Malone, a slippery makeup artist with a nefarious desire to befriend her, and Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote, who play towering models who subsist mostly on caffeine and shade-throwing, Jesse ascends the world of casting calls and opportunistic photographers, flying past the competition, thanks to a transcendent beauty that captivates everyone dangerously.
Along the way, Jesse is transformed, as models are, with sequins, body paint, lipstick, and contorted hair. “I had never worn this much makeup!” says Fanning of working with makeup artist Erin Ayanian, who adhered rhinestones to Fanning’s face with eyelash glue, placed gold strips along the contours of her face, and struck just the right balance between blush and blood. “It added to the idea of a girl who wants to be a model, she’s just gotten to L.A., and these makeup artists put these things on her face and she doesn’t feel like herself,” Fanning says. “And I didn’t feel like myself; all of that makeup and embellishment”.