Elle Fanning stars as 16-year-old aspiring model Jesse, who comes from small town USA to Los Angeles, where she is targeted by a group of beauty-obsessed women.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s pervy, a bit dodgy, David Lynch-style arty exploiter is just that – arty and an exploiter. Whatever it has, it loses about half way. Refn is credited for the story but there isn’t one. There’s a premise – new girl in town is perfect and perfectly vulnerable in the modelling world. It’s not a very new idea but it’s always very serviceable and here Refn puts it to good service, well, er, strong service.
Refn turns in an extremely striking look, visually imaginative and alluring movie, but he loses track of telling a story or even of his characters, and a tiring movie eventually becomes tiresome in the second half, as desperation seems to set in. He could have tried cutting it off short, lopping off half an hour from somewhere, pacing it up quite a bit, cutting some of the chatter and the repetition. But he’d still have a movie in trouble, half a striking film.
The 18-year-old Fanning goes to it with an iron will, oddly enough, because she thus succeeds in making her character seem desperately vulnerable and lost, a power victim, oh a masochist maybe. But it’s hard to say who Jesse actually is or what the movie is really getting at, and that makes it a worrying, disturbing experience. It is very powerful but deeply unpleasant, and sometimes even quite shocking. I’d say it is unpleasantly voyeuristic too.
It starts as a drama, turns into a thriller, becomes a sex film and then a horror film. It is always an art movie though. You’d call it unique if David Lynch films didn’t exist, though it does carve out its own nasty little niche.
There are stonking great parts for the actresses – Jena Malone, Christina Hendricks, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee – all of them truly impressive in difficult circumstances. Malone has a particularly tricky job as Ruby, a makeup magician both with women living and dead, who enjoys making love with either. The men’s roles are totally sidelined – Karl Glusman as Jesse’s kind would-be boyfriend, Keanu Reeves as Jesse’s motel manager and Desmond Harrington as a trendy/sleazy photographer – leaving good actors struggling in stereotype minor roles.
Cliff Martinez’s score and Natasha Braier’s cinematography are absolutely outstanding.
It is not for the faint hearted or easily shocked. It is rated 18 in the UK or R in the US for disturbing violent content, bloody images, graphic nudity, a scene of aberrant sexuality, and strong language, so adults only.
It is also just a little bit pretentious, but that is OK. It is allowed if you are making art. It revels in its need to show off, impressively so. That is one of its strengths. And a non-CGI-driven film for adults makes a real change.
© Derek Winnert 2016 Movie Review
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