Elle Fanning

The Beguiled (2017)

I’m unsure what it is at the moment, but period dramas are becoming my highly anticipated films of the year. The first instance was My Cousin Rachel, and the second is Sofia Coppola’s latest venture with The Beguiled.

Set in the 1800s during the American Civil War, the film had the promise of being a rather tense affair. It’s clear that Sofia Coppola’s has adoration for costume pieces, especially after Marie Antoinette but also the use of clothing and accessories in less-than-forgettable The Bling Ring.

It has to be said though, the opening forty or so minutes of The Beguiled do slog their way through the narrative as it tries building toward the tense and gripping affair it looked to be. As the Civil War is underway, the placement of the school in Virginia is excellent, as you hear to not-so far off gunshots and explosions as the war rages into it’s third year.

But with that comes a certain sense of innocence, as Amy (Oona Laurence) hums a playful tune whilst looking for mushrooms to pick. Amy stumbles across the injured John McBurney, (Colin Farrell) an injured Corporal of the Union army, who happens to have deserted the war effort. With good intentions, she brings him back to Miss Martha’s school, which causes an immediate disruption to the school.

Although the film does stand at around an hour and a half, it is a slow burner to begin with, which makes it feel longer. But Coppola dresses the screen with this aforementioned adoration of the dresses and the setting of the house, interior and exterior. The cast all eventually come into their own as they fight for the affections of Corporal McBurney, which does reach breaking point. The tension between Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and Alicia (Elle Fanning) is brilliant, especially as Elle Fanning channels her performance from The Neon Demon.

Each of the girls within the school is given apt time on screen, with the large chunk revolving around Miss Martha, (Nicola Kidman) Edwina and Alicia. Farrell is given enough time to spin his web within the house and what began as resentment for the ‘Yank’ soon became affection as each of the girls begin tussling for his attention and affection.

Her choice to leave the screen almost devoid of music for the first forty to fifty minutes really helped accentuate the wartime effort that engulfed Virginia. The natural noises mixed perfectly with the placement of Miss Martha’s home and often at times gave it a claustrophobic feeling as the film progress towards it’s climax. But when the tension of the music kicked in, it elevated the screen tenfold.

My only issue with the film is that opening forty minutes. Once it is past this hump and John McBurney incites the line ‘vengeful bitches’ The Beguiled really comes into it’s own. Especially with the performances from Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning as they try to play off each other. Sofia Coppola continues the trend of having intriguing female characters and created enough of a story to keep it’s head above water going into the final half of the film. And that last shot is just gorgeous.

The Neon Demon (2016)

The Neon Demon is probably the strangest film I watched in a long time, yet has left me wanting more and more. Set again in Los Angeles, the fashion scene seems worlds away to the Los Angeles discovered in Drive. 

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Nicholas Winding Refn has managed to find that divisive element again that plagued his release of Only God Forgives as it was met with cheers and jeers at Cannes. (Coincidentally, this occurred again with The Neon Demon) Over 120 minutes the film transcends various different avenues and paths that the differing women undertake. Jena Malone’s Ruby and Elle Fanning’s Jesse lead the charge whilst back-upped by the suspiciously-charming Gigi and Sarah. (Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee, respectively) The film finds difficult and distressing scenes to encounter, actually making people leave the cinema in one certain scene. However, it couldn’t be helped as the fashion world is discovered by Jesse.

Unlike his previous films having featuring very male-orientated casts (See Drive, Only God Forgives, Bronson & Valhalla Rising) a female-heavy cast is a welcome change considering Elle Fanning’s Jesse is probably one of the most intriguing characters in recent memory. The adventure she traverses whilst Gigi and Sarah are consumed by hatred and jealously that the new kid on the block is ‘perfect’ becomes a riveting story as we see the path of destruction Jesse unknowingly treads. As the film ventures more and more into the fashion world, Jesse is consumed by her own vanity and begins to love herself – a farsight to the fresh-faced sixteen year old as she yearns for the admiration by her peers.

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One of the biggest positives of Drive was the soundtrack, so it’s unsurprising Winding-Refn has teamed up with Cliff Martinez again to create a euphoric-sounding journey again. Martinez goes to both ends of the scale creating thumpingly loud brash sounds to go along the party atmosphere, but also the mystical discovery as Jesse begins to discover herself and the Los Angeles modelling scene. Jesse’s first experience at a Los Angeles party in the midst of a red strobe light to her becoming the pride of the catwalk and finishing the show (in a scene that could be interpreted as Jesse becoming the titular ‘Neon Demon’) just show the stunning visuals that Winding-Refn produced to match the marvellous thrilling soundtrack created by Martinez.

The difficulty in this film would be to become too bogged down with the characters and the story. I feel Winding-Refn has rather created an experience to explore another side of Los Angeles, different to the one previously visited in Drive. This doesn’t necessarily mean the story is terrible, it is rather peculiar considering the elements of vanity and the film buying into horror tropes. Rather than creating a compelling story to grasp us with, Winding-Refn instead has opted for a visionary experience that stays with you after leaving the cinema. Strangely, it worked.

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It’s not often a film stays with me in the days preceding the first watch. This isn’t a bad thing, it happened with The Guest, a film I initially hated but have since grown to love. The Neon Demon managed to get under my skin, even with a basis of a story I have no care in exploring. I merely bought into the film due to enjoyment from Winding-Refn’s previous films, but ending up throughly enjoy this picture. The seemingly vacuous pettiness of the fashion proved to be the unsurprising cut-throat business it is but explored in such a way that Winding-Refn has provided a throughly enjoyable visionary experience. One thing is for sure though, I cannot wait for the next viewing of this film.