The horror genre is tricky terrain to traverse. Often cited for being vapid and derivative, truly great horror films are hard to come by, which is understandable given the steady hodgepodge of remakes and reboots abound. But every so often a Babadook-type comes down the line – a horror film with integrity, characters we actually care for, and ideas that go far beyond what’s displayed on screen. Oh, and crazy awesome style. Starry Eyes is one of these films.
Written and directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, Starry Eyes is about a young woman named Sarah (Alex Essoe) who’s hoping to live out her dream of making it as an actress. She’s desperate, stuck waitressing at a schlocky restaurant, hoping that her next audition will be her big break. She finally gets an audition for a film called The Silver Scream through a production company called Astraeus Pictures. From this point on, it’s hard to judge what’s weirder: the people Sarah’s auditioning for or the audition process itself, which includes self-mutilating hair pulling, a strip down for the producers, and some freaky-deaky flashing images all hinting toward demonic possession, mind control, Satanism, or maybe something else…or all of the above.
As Sarah plunges deeper and deeper into the “acting world,” she begins to lose her sense of self, her mind, her hair, and her fingernails. Her behavior becomes more erratic, as her body seems to be decaying right in front of her eyes. But just how far will she go in order to land her coveted leading role – a surefire chance at stardom. Or will her undying ambition truly be the death of her?
The film is dark and majorly twisted, but under its veneer is a study of how truly fucked up the movie industry (and Hollywood) really is. It examines the depths up-and-comers will go to for fame, and correspondingly, what producers, studios and the industry at large will do in order to cash in. You really feel for Sarah, and as an extension, feel for everyone in Los Angeles and elsewhere who might be chasing their respective dreams and self-sacrificing to get one step further.
Stylistically, Kölsch and Widmyer set a tone that is both retro (thanks to an astounding score by Jonathan Snipes, available now on vinyl through Waxwork Records) and contemporary. The lighting and imagery used throughout Sarah’s audition process add mystery and depravity to the Powers That Be at Astraeus Pictures. Like Sarah, the audience is kept entirely in the dark, never able to get a solid footing as to where the story is heading. Thanks to this, the tension never eases for a single second. It’s a compounding pile-on of massive WTF moments, but the payoff – the gory, body disfiguring, murderous climax – will leave you wide-eyed and open-mouthed.
Sarah’s plight is horrid and unbearable, but what the film really nails is the fragile pendulum that swings between soul searching and soul selling. For Sarah, the consequences of her drive and decisions are dire. For viewers, her fate makes for one great horror flick that embodies the true horror behind one of the most sought after industries.
Starry Eyes is now available to creep you out over on Netflix.
And be sure to check out our interview with co-writer/director Kevin Kolsch!