I absolutely adore it when a film goes all the way with its portrayal of human tragedy and entwines it all in a thick atmosphere of stark malevolence...don't you? Starry Eyes does just that and it is among my favorites of 2014. Let us fly off into a land of shattered dreams, self-sacrifice and bleak terror.
Shot beautifully by Adam Bricker, who has mostly lensed short films until now, Starry Eyes tells the story of a young actress named Sarah desperate to make it big in Hollywood. It's the same old story told dozens of times in countless ways....only now, it is given the satanic cult treatment. A fresh perspective teeming with double edged commentary that usually goes for the jugular in this film. In fact duo writers/directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer have created an intensely sincere depiction of a young woman's life as she yearns to realize her singular dream of becoming a famous actress. Kolsch and Widmyer make expert work of pacing and tension in a film that concerns demonic cults, a definite favorite genre category of mine. We may very well see this directing duo go on to much bigger things.
I feel like every year there's a new horror film doing its damnedest to top the previous year's female-themed horror offering. A couple years ago saw Lucky Mckgee's The Woman and Richard Bates Jr's awesome Excision, while last year we caught Jay Lee's masterful effort...Alyce Kills as well as Park Chan-wook's brilliant American debut...Stoker. Well, this year we have Starry Eyes making a run for best crazy-female body horror of the year.
I gotta say...this film pretty much hits most of my horror sweet spots. It has a couple of huge favorites of mine, satanic cults and demons (the latter done in a much more subdued manner, almost kind of poetic) and when it comes to repulsing the viewer...the film hits the mark often. Starry Eyes is chockful of body horror stuff all throughout. Hell, they even threw in a sweet homage to Cronenberg's The Fly. I have a couple of good friends who'll love that one. And while the film does its absolute best to gross out its audience, it really sells the whole affair with some stellar acting all throughout.
Alex Essoe is the stand-out in this picture. I hate to even be talking about this...but, if Hollywood ever does decide to finally green-light a Suspiria remake (I shudder to even type this)...I would nominate Alex Essoe in the role of Suzy Bannion. The girl is remarkable in this film. The character of Sarah goes through so many little transformations throughout the story that it is an absolute requirement to have someone with the acting chops of Alex in order to truly sell you the whole thing...and she does so with a magnetic performance among the best of the year. Seriously...she's that fucking good in this.
The basic premise, without spoiling too much, concerns our lovely Sarah doing her goddamndest to land her first breakthrough acting role, all while working at the local Big Taters (a fun caricature of Hooters) for owner Carl (Pat Healy making another bit part memorable) and doing her best to fend off her douchebag wannabe friends who mostly wanna see her fail. Remember Noah Segan from Deadgirl and Fabianne Therese from John Dies at the End? Well, they're in this as well. I won't say anymore for fear of revealing the bigger picture...but, I will say that the whole thing feels like a seamless exercise in casting a light on the horrors of the modern day struggling actress. Only, it's done with a genuine love for the genre.
In the way of grue, Starry Eyes has its share of the gory stuff all throughout its 98 minute running time. There are scenes in the film that will forever be seared into my subconscious. I feel like saying more but, I don't wanna ruin the surprise. And while there is certainly enough gratuitous bloodshed to satisfy the gorehounds in the audience, it's all done with purpose...even if it is sometimes a little much. And with such a tight budget, it's all done so goddamn well. There's even a demonic puke scene that will surely crawl under your skin.
Starry Eyes is great filmmaking. I cannot recommend it enough. It is films like this that keep hope alive for the genre in a sea of empty remakes and uninspired sequels. Satanic cults, hot girls, the seedy underbelly of Hollywood and a fresh young talent by the name of Alex Essoe to hold the entire thing together...seriously, how can one go wrong? As I mentioned all the way at the tippy top of this long rant, I'm sure Starry Eyes will end up on my best of 2014 list. It is available on iTunes at the time of this writing and I'm sure you won't be able to find it during its limited theater run. But, if it is playing at a theater near you...SEE THE FUCK OUT OF THIS FILM.
Thanks for reading,