May 15, 2015

Movie Review: Starry Eyes

If anyone tries to tell you they don't make good horror movies anymore, you have my permission to scoff at them. Seriously, there are plenty of good horror movies out there, you just may have to search beyond the local cineplex in order to find them. Sure, we have the Insidious films and a few other solid to great mainstream horror films, but for the most part, they are just looking for a way to get the money out of teens pockets. Now, if you go beyond the theater and look a little deeper you may be surprised by what you find. The latest one to catch me by surprise is Starry Eyes.

I did not stumble across it wholly by accident. I had a number of friends posting their praises, while at least one or two were lamenting the fact that people loved it and seemed to go out of their way to voice displeasure for the film and disdain for those who like it. Still, it was there in my Netflix queue just waiting for me. The time arrived, I pressed play, and I was transfixed. The lesson, moral, subject, whatever you want to call it, may not be the most original, but it is the execution of it that makes it stand out.

Starry Eyes centers on Sarah (Alex Essoe), a young, aspiring actress, currently working the day to day drudgery at a Hooters-style restaurant. When she isn't working, she is going to acting classes and whatever auditions she is able to get. She isn't alone in work or in aspiration, she has a group of friends who are all in the same boat. What little downtime they have, they spend talking about the films, projects, and auditions they have. Still, Sarah feels separated from them, she is a ball of insecurity. Consider the first time we meet her, she is standing nearly naked in front of a mirror. She looks at herself with a face that is a window into her insecurity, where she should be feeling good, she sees nothing but flaws. She does not need say anything.

Things begin to change when she gets a chance audition for the lead role in a horror movie from an established production company. She goes and afterwards, feeling she blew it, steps into a restroom and vents her frustration, screaming, howling in rage and internal pain, and tearing her hair out. It is quite a sight, which was hinted at earlier. One of the studio folks witnesses this and brings her back in. How will you know what you can become if you do not let go?

The tale progresses as Sarah begins to, at first, question her ability, then moving on to believing in herself. What it all comes down to is not necessarily believing in yourself or even having ability, it is more about how far are you willing to go to make it happen? Starry Eyes takes you down that path into the abyss where the abyss begins to look back and then take over your very soul. Are you willing to go that far? Are you willing to lose your humanity all in the effort to be remembered, to be a star?

Again, this is not a new subject, but it is fascinating to watch Sarah go through these different stages of questioning and commitment and seeing how it changes her, how it transforms her. It is a brave performance that is perfectly believable. It is done in a low key style (likely a result of a low budget, but sometimes that leads to interesting ways of executing a concept), it keeps you involved, watching, waiting, wondering just where it is all going before the trap snaps shut in a finale that may be a way to drive the horror home, but is a touch cliché. Still, it is very effective and, daresay, shocking?

The writing/directing team of Kevin Kolsh and Dennis Widmyer have crafted an impressive character driven piece that has plenty of atmosphere. It is a captivating journey into the abyss that has the look and feel of a throwback film without containing a wink and a nod to the audience. It feels genuine in concept and execution. From the look, that seems derived from Carpenter and touches of Cronenberg and Lynch fill the proceedings with recognizable touches, to the way the title appears, not unlike a '70s era horror, to a synth driven score, everything comes together in a way that just worked for me.

Starry Eyes is a movie that may not be exactly original, but it is one that takes the familiar and throws it together with a DIY attitude that does not feel constrained by the rules. It is a fascinating film that is well worth diving into. You may find yourself questioning your own desires and your willingness to go all the way.

Highly Recommended.

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