Fashion fantasia

Film explores extravagance of model culture

2 Neon Demon Pageant Theatre. Rated R.

Neon Demon is an eyeful, and then some. But about halfway through its 117-minute running time, it also begins to seem spectacularly empty.

At first, it’s ostensibly the story of an ambitious teenager named Jesse (Elle Fanning) trying to gain entry to the world of upscale fashion models. She catches the eye of a makeup artist named Ruby (Jena Malone), signs with a swaggering agent (Christina Hendricks) and plunges into a cloying little world of warped vanities, petty jealousies and convoluted sexuality.

Director Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives) seems to set it all up as a swanky, quasi-Fellini-esque satire on the contemporary fashion world in general and on the perverse extravagances of fashion photography in particular. But the whole enterprise soon morphs into a kind of lurid fantasia that seems at least half in love with those extravagances and absurdities.

Fanning’s character becomes in some ways indistinguishable from those of her closest rivals (Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee). Hendricks makes a strong but brief impression. Malone has the most diverse role (her character also moonlights as a mortician). Keanu Reeves glowers impressively through the role of a villainous motel manager.