Let me tell you all the good things about Nicolas Winding Refn's high-art, lowbrow horror film The Neon Demon before I tell you what I will not tolerate. After Drive, Refn seems obsessed with his idea of Los Angeles, one where there's always a full moon, no traffic and everyone is speeding in sports cars with the tops down. The Neon Demon is no different, though now Refn's focused his energy on motels and modeling. Jesse (Elle Fanning) arrives in L.A., 16 and aware that she's pretty enough to make some money. She holes up in a seedy motel, where manager Hank (Keanu Reeves) is aggressively creepy and blatantly pedophilic. Here you have the central fairy-tale dilemma of Refn's L.A. stories: Will wholesomeness win out over corruption? Naw.
Veteran models -- and frenemies -- Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee) wear an armor of form-fitting garments as they haze the new girl with talk about sex and "red rum" lipstick in a dance club's vintage '30s French Baroque bathroom. Whether or not you connect with Refn's brand of over-the-top violence, you can't deny that his attention to color, texture and music is nearly unmatched by other directors working today.
But Refn makes a grave misstep, and here's where I must speak about the intolerable in The Neon Demon. Rape is not a fucking plot point. We hear another the excruciating screams of a 13-year-old girl getting raped in the room next to Jesse's. Much of this film works because it's a fantastical vision of a bleak world, but this moment departs in tone: It's too real, unoriginal and used by far too many male filmmakers as a cheap thrill.