Starry Eyes, 2015.
Directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer.
Starring Alex Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Noah Segan, Fabianne Therese, Pat Healy, Nick Simmons, Marc Senter, Maria Olsen and Trent Haaga.
An aspiring young actress sells her soul to a satanic cult in exchange for fame and fortune. Never a good idea…
Starry Eyes is a good example of the old phrase ‘It’s not the material but what you do with it’ because on the surface there isn’t really an original thought or idea in it. If you pick apart the film into its individual strands there isn’t anything you haven’t seen or read before in the works of Roman Polanski, Clive Barker or any number of occult B-movies from the 1970s, but when it’s all put together to form a narrative most (not all) of the different things going make Starry Eyes one of the most memorable horror movies of recent years.
Memorable perhaps because of its timing, because the craving for fame and celebrity has never been greater and success easier to achieve (on some sort of level at least) and Starry Eyes taps into that desire. The lead character, Sarah (Alex Essoe), is a pretty young wannabe actress looking for a break whilst waiting tables in a themed fast food restaurant. That is until she answers an ad and gets invited to audition for a part in a horror movie called The Silver Scream that is being made by a well known production company, because things turn a bit sinister once Sarah passes the initial auditions and has to go and see the producer (Louis Dezseran), who makes her an offer that, if she accepts, will cost her dearly.
So it’s a Faustian pact story about achieving fame by selling your soul. It’s a story that has been told many times over in many different ways but in Starry Eyes writers/directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer have taken those core ideas about the cost of fame and made those ideas interesting by applying them to characters that we want to know about. Sarah herself is a likeable enough character to begin with but as she battles with her own conscience about what she is being offered and what she has to do to achieve it we begin to discover that maybe she wasn’t all that nice a person to begin with, and as events unfold between Sarah and the friends that surround her that opinion is justified. But that never stops her being somebody that we, at times, feel for and want to spend time with, if only to see where this journey leads her.
And where it leads her is down a path of physical and mental disintegration that is both repulsive and fascinating to watch as Sarah’s life (and body) literally fall apart. There is an endgame and the carnage isn’t gratuitous, instead the special effects used sparingly but effectively and turned up to the max when needed and it all adds to the suspense that the filmmakers are trying to build by echoing a lot of the best horror movies of the late 1960s and early 1970s. To be fair, it doesn’t always work quite as well as it should but in the main it’s an approach that a few more modern filmmakers could learn a thing or two from.
Starry Eyes isn’t a perfect movie. There are some huge pacing issues that make the 91-minute running time feel a lot longer and several of the scenes feel disconnected from the rest of the film, almost as if the filmmakers had sudden ideas while they were filming and decided to try something unscripted, giving a somewhat random feel to much of the plot. However, given the mood that is trying to be set this can be forgiven, unlike some of the acting that does border on the painful at times. But the film really hangs on the performance of Alex Essoe and she absolutely nails the desperate and vulnerable traits that make Sarah such a compelling character. Add to that the feeling of dread that recalls Rosemary’s Baby and The House of the Devil, and some top-notch gore that borders on French new wave levels of extremity and Starry Eyes is that rare thing in modern horror – a horror film that is shocking, entertaining and memorable. Why aren’t there more like this?
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★