The movie opens up with beautiful blond teenager Jesse (Elle Fanning) sprawled out across a love seat. Blood trickles down her body and onto the love seat and the floor beneath her. She is being photographed by Dean (Karl Glusman), a young amateur photographer whom she met on the Internet the shoot gives Dean to practice his craft, but it’s mainly so Jesse can get headshots. After the shoot, she struggles to get the blood makeup off her body when makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone) offers to help her. Ruby learns Jesse just moved into town (this is her first “photo shoot”) and is currently staying at a junky motel in Pasadena. Ruby offers Jesse friendship and to take her to a party later that night. There she meets Australian models Sarah (Abbey Lee) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote) -- Gigi continuously brags about her extensive plastic surgery, and Sarah insists the only thing that matters in this town is who you’re having sex with. Despite the hostile tensions Jesse receives from the veteran models, she enjoys herself at the party by watching a naked model seemingly fly over a stage and hover under a mysterious blue upside-down triangle all to the pulse of flashing strobes lights.
The following morning, Jesse interviews at a prestigious modeling agency. Her interviewer, Roberta Hoffman (Christina Hendricks), showers her with compliments on her beauty and the prediction that she will be “great”. Jesse informs Roberta she’s only 16 -- Roberta fixes this with a parental consent form (she pretty much fires two other models while going to retrieve the form) and by getting Jesse to start telling people she’s 19 because “18 is too on the nose”. She celebrates her signing that night with Dean. They celebrate by driving up to the Hollywood Hills and looking down at the city below. Jesse talks about how she’s always felt talentless but is confident she can make money with her looks. Dean clearly has a crush on her, but is cautious due to her young age. She obviously looks to him for moral support, asking if she should really lie about her age. Dean encourages her to do what she thinks is right.
Her next step is a photo shoot with a prestigious photographer named Jack (Desmond Harrington). After Ruby does her makeup, Jack gets one good look at her and announces this photo shoot will be a closed set, leaving him completely alone with Jesse. He tells her to take off her clothes and turn around -- he proceeds to erotically rub her body with gold paint and shoots an amazing photo session. When she finishes, she meets up with Ruby outside who tells her to be careful around guys like Jack. Jesse appreciates Ruby’s friendship and the offer to call her if she needs anything. Ruby meets up with Gigi and Sarah at a diner later, where they all take notice of how quickly Jesse is rising in the model circuit. Ruby admits that there is something rather unique with Jesse, which annoys Gigi and Sarah. Meanwhile, Jesse finds something rummaging around in her hotel room that night. She informs the unpleasant manager Hank (Keanu Reeves), who inspects the room and finds a cougar has snuck into her room (she left the sliding glass door open while she was gone) Hank demands she pay for the damages left by the wild animal.
Jesse finds herself at a casting call the next day. Sarah is also here, and doesn’t take kindly to Jesse’s presence. The unnamed fashion designer (Allesandro Nivola) is unimpressed by most of the models but takes on an immediate infatuation with Jesse as she auditions. She’s immediately hired which crushes Sarah, who breaks down in a bathroom and throws a trash can at the mirror. Jesse walks in and compliments Sarah, but she asks her what it feels like to walk into a room and be loved by everyone Jesse says, “it’s everything”. When Jesse cuts her hand on a broken mirror shard, Sarah tries to drink her blood. Jesse panics and runs to her motel. Dean finds her some time later bloody and unconscious. He looks after her by getting the shard out of her hand then paying Hank for the door. Hank taunts Dean by claiming “she isn’t worth it” if he isn’t having sex with her he even offers a 13-year old runaway in the room next to Jesse’s, which disgusts Dean.
A fashion show ran by the unnamed designer is held. Jesse and Gigi both take part of it, but the designer specifically wants to use Jesse as the coveted closing model. As expected, this drives Gigi and the other models crazy. As the show begins, Jesse has an intense hallucination where she sees the mirror images of herself inside making out with each other inside another blue triangle. Later on, Jesse brings Dean to a private event with the designer and models. The designer can’t stop talking about how “second-rate” Gigi is due to all of her plastic surgeries and how Jesse is “a diamond in a sea of glass”. Dean argues with him over claims that beauty is everything; when he insists Dean would’ve never bothered with Jesse is she wasn’t beautiful, he gets fed up and leaves the party. Jesse finds him waiting for her at the hotel later; he asks her if she seriously wants to be like them Jesse claims they actually all want to be her, and dumps Dean.
That night, Jesse dreams that Hank comes into her room and slowly pushes a knife down her throat while softly demanding she open her mouth wider. She wakes up to an unseen man (most likely Hank) actually trying to enter her room. After getting to get through the locked door, Jesse hears him break into the room next door and rape the 13-year old runaway. Disturbed by this, she calls Ruby who invites her to stay the night at an elegant mansion she’s house-sitting. Ruby comforts her, then slowly tries to force herself on her. Jesse assures her she has the wrong idea and claims her virginity. When Ruby tries again to be intimate, Jesse forcefully pushes her off. The next morning, a frustrated Ruby goes to her second job at the morgue, where she does makeup for bodies awaiting burial. She imagines one of the female corpses as Jesse and pleasures herself while on top of it.
Back at the mansion, Jesse dons an elegant gown laid out for her and spends the day applying an elaborate layer of makeup. When Ruby returns home, she finds Jesse standing on a diving board above an empty swimming pool. She tells Ruby that people have always wanted her looks and goes so far to say some people would do anything to achieve her beauty. Jesse retreats back inside the house and finds Gigi and Sarah here; she asks the two girls if they’re “having a party” before they viciously attack her. They chase her back outside to Ruby, who echoes her earlier statements before pushing her into the deep end of the empty pool. The fall kills her and her body is taken by the three girls they then proceed to horrifically eat parts of her body and bathe in her blood.
The girls wake up the next day and go about their lives. Ruby waters the mansions’ plants topless and reads a book while laying on top of Jesse’s grave. Gigi accompanies Sarah to a beach house photoshoot directed by Jack. Jack stops the shoot to compliment Gigi’s beauty he abruptly fires another model and has Gigi take her place, putting her in the shot right next to Sarah. However, she gets extremely sick and retreats to a bathroom. Sarah rushes to Gigi’s aid and witnesses her regurgitate one of Jesse’s eyeballs. Panicked, Gigi screams “I need to get her out of me” and stabs herself to death with a pair of scissors. Barely fazed, Sarah eats the regurgitated eyeball and returns to the shoot.
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