Synopsis: A hopeful young starlet uncovers the ominous origins of the Hollywood elite and enters into a deadly agreement in exchange for fame and fortune. (Source)
Cut from the same cloth as the best chillers from Polanski, Lynch and Cronenberg, Starry Eyes is one of the finest horror films of the past few years. It’s a deep character-centric story easily separates itself from the current glut of empty shock horror, taking its influences and commendably shaping them into something new, modern and relevant. Directors Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch bring a virtuosic approach to the screen, apparent in the film’s perfect synergy between visual style and psychological dread, which only becomes more oppressive as the film smartly builds to it’s knockout of a climax. This is the devilish return to form that genre fans have been craving, and you can be sure that it won’t be one that’s easy to shake. Mark my words, every horror fan will be talking about Starry Eyes before the year’s end.
The story concerns an aspiring actress living in Los Angeles named Sarah Walker. Shuffling auditions with a degrading job at a Hooters knock-off named Big Taters, Sarah and her friends are desperate for that elusive big break, the one that’ll put their name in the lights. But do any of them really have the drive to succeed where so many have failed? Sarah’s resolve is put to the test after she auditions for a schlock horror film called The Silver Scream. After a few spotty auditions, she’s finally offered the lead role of the film – but of course, it comes with a price. Earning a meeting with the film’s producer, Sarah learns that the filmmakers want more from her than just a performance, and it’s here where the film gets really crazy. As it turns out, the shadowy production company behind the film are one of the most powerful entities in Hollywood, with the ability to grant Sarah the gateway to success she’s been craving… all she has to do is make a few sacrifices – in every sense of the word.
We’ve all heard the stories about how heartless of a place Hollywood is for young, eager talent, ready to consume and spit out the latest Hollywood hopefuls for the sake of it’s sordid cause. This film delivers multiple levels of that story, in a literal and metaphorical sense, giving us a fully realized protagonist willing to give whatever’s necessary of herself to achieve her dreams. This isn’t a film merely living from scare to scare, but one that delicately builds up its main character while creating moody and at times palpable psychological tension. The further we get to understand Sarah, her drives, her wants, fears and why they matter so much to her, the harder the film hits when things slowly but surely go off the rails – and trust me, they do. This is transformative horror in which the grotesque physical manifestations evoke primal, relatable feelings. You can come for the blood and gore, but there’s also an emotional center to the film which makes us feel the twisty and haunting conclusion.
In addition to the film’s strong narrative, it’s a visual experience as well. Directors Widmyer and Kolsch are smart about the locations they use and how to create a suffocating environment for viewer and protagonist, using the orientation of a shot, cleverly staged compositions and editing to play into Sarah’s disorienting psyche. Combined with the film’s more horrific set pieces, this is one incredibly crafted paranoid world.
Of course the thing that clicks the entire thing together is a star-making performance from Alex Essoe. As Sarah, the actress brings a physicality to the role that tells us what isn’t being said. There’s a vulnerability to her, yet she isn’t just a damsel in distress. Over the course of the film she transforms into something we don’t necessarily see coming, and then we realize how good she is at hiding and presenting different parts of the character as she adapts to her situation.
Like the best horror, Starry Eyes comes from a very grounded and relatable place, despite its fantastic premise. Sure its got demonic and occult underpinnings, yet those strangely aren’t the most horrifying things here. Instead, the film has a lot to say about the darkness inherent in us all, shown best by what Sarah is willing to unleash in order to chase her dreams. Starry Eyes is frightening because it finds horror in the hidden parts of ourselves that are just waiting to be discovered.
Crome Rating: 4.5/5