Sunday 5 April 2015

Review: Starry Eyes

Year: 2014 (U.K Release 2015)
Director: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
Screenplay: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
Starring: Alex Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Noah Segan

Synopsis is here:

It’s no surprise that that producers of The Innkeepers also had a hand in the terrifically nasty Starry Eyes. This film not only has Pat Healy (Cheap Thrills) in a comical yet slightly leery, small role. It also has a similar deliberate pace to it. Along with the likes of The House of the Devil (2009), Resolution (2012) and It Follows (2015) – three films which also take their time with their thrills - Starry Eyes enjoys hanging out with its characters. Peeling back the amour of who we watch, leaving only their exposed areas. It adds itself to the growing list of recent horror films that want to attach ourselves to the vulnerability of the people we see. Not to say we haven’t seen this in horror before, but the likes of the aforementioned films have clearly strived to make the lives of their characters more prominent.

The film’s wish to give its characters and story some consideration, poses advantages and disadvantages to the piece as a whole. We’re more poised with empathy for Sarah (Essoe), the demure yet determined young actress, once the carnage starts. Yet we have to contend with the fact that her friends are arseholes. Sarah story is compelling in its own indie movie way. However, so much of this is due to Alex Essoe‘s well balanced and powerful physical performance. If this doesn’t connect with a more impatient viewer, I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t wait until the end.

This is not to say that the clues aren’t there. We see the subtle anguish and detachment that escalates after her fated audition with a faded yet infamous production company. Tensions between Sarah are illustrated by her frustrations of failed auditions, her dead-end fast food job and bitchy friends. As the tensions rise, we notice that Sarah is really quite fragile. Once the claws of the cult begin to dig their fingers in, her stability, both mentally and physically, begins to disintegrate.  Kölsch and Widmyer use effective dream sequences to exhibit her frailty, including a devastatingly simple “missing dialogue” set piece which reminded me of the creepiest moments of Nintendo’s Eternal Darkness.

What I really enjoyed about Starry Eyes, is how it becomes a sly dig at the disintegration of independent filmmaking and comment on the murkiness of Hollywood ambition and desire of fame. The films under lit cinematography of an overcast L.A only helps to highlight the gloomy state that inhabits Sarah and her ambitious young friends, who always chat about their movie, but seemingly get nothing done. It is only the old hands who succeed in the fame game as the youthful are eaten alive.

As the film pushes on, Starry Eyes appears to be influenced by the likes of Kill List (2011), capturing the same tone of despair felt by the despondent characters featured in Ben Wheatley’s brutal thriller. Starry Eye’s climax also holds similar aspects to Wheatley’s film thematically, with the film playing out a comparable fatalistic conclusion for those desires for material wealth. Yet it seems clear to me that the filmmakers most far reaching and explicit influences are that of Brian Yuzna’s Society (1989) and Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession (1981), with Alex Essoe’s appearance and features bearing more than a small resemblance. An eye colour change near the film's end really feels like a tip off.

While Starry Eyes isn’t as deranged as Zulawski’s unhinged offering, it does have a fun time hanging near the same ballpark. As Essoe clings to her slipping sanity, I became more drawn to her performance. Once the film raises the stakes, and turns the volume up on the body horror, I found myself more involved with the film and with what Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer were doing with it. I will say that it takes a while to get where it’s going, but any film that would make an interesting (yet depraved) double bill with David Cronenberg’s Map to the Stars (2014) is a winner in my book. A nefarious entry for the corrupt little bastard in all of us.