Starry Eyes. 2014. Dir. Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer. Alex Essoe, Amanda Fuller, and Noah Segan. Dark Sky Films. 98 minutes.
The first half of Starry Eyes plays more like a gritty personal drama about a struggling young woman instead of horror. Though it isn’t a bad thing. Dual-directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, Starry Eyes tells the story of aspiring young actress Sarah trying to juggle her minimum wage job at a fast food joint while reaching for the titular stars in her eyes. Things are pretty bleak from the start. The first shots of Sarah indicate this will be a very subjective journey, riding along in her head. And it might get uncomfortable. Might get weird. It surely does.
A little past the halfway point of Starry Eyes, Kolsch and Widmyer show us they are not joking around. This is not a gritty drama. This is pure, unadulterated horror. Every inch. Of course, it isn’t hard to tell this is where the film’s headed. You can see it coming. But it’s how the film delivers the goods which really matters.
We start off watching Sarah disintegrate. Essentially, the film begins in media res of Sarah’s life, as she’s already clearly disillusioned, jaded, emotionally wrecked by the search for fame. It’s a slow burn up to the point where all the physical horror really kicks into motion. It works perfectly because once it does kick in it kicks in hard. I like when a film doesn’t have to be outright horror all the way from start to finish to truly accomplish the goal of horror. The plot is much more terrifying after we’ve watched Sarah, played amazingly by Alex Essoe, struggle on an emotional level we can all relate to. I mean, everyone has dreamed of being given ‘the chance’ to be famous, or whatever. Unfortunately for us as an audience, but especially for Sarah, the chance she gets is not what it’s all cracked up to be. In fact, it isn’t anything good. At all. Sarah ends up meeting a film producer who has less than honourable intentions. She runs out. Later though, she decides whatever he wants from her is worth giving. She is completely starry eyed to the point of ruin. The scene where Sarah decides to go back and visit the producer is where things really go from bleak to terrifying.
So often smaller budget horror films will have a really interesting concept and then it’s all blown on pitiful acting. Not to mention bad cinematography, sound design, score, and so on. What Starry Eyes might lack in budget compared to bigger (crappier) horror movies it makes up for in the way it uses said budget. The filmmakers could have went with a lot of fake looking nonsense, but instead they came out with something that not only has good actors in it, there’s also beautiful looking camerawork, fantastic special effects, and an overall incredible atmosphere and feel of how it all looks. There are some really great shots in here.Another thing I applaud the film for is its treatment of sensitive subject matter. I love horror. I love disturbing films that aren’t horror. That being said, I do not enjoy films of any genre exploiting rape or sexual assault. I’m not saying it can’t be a part of a plot or story, but it also shouldn’t be thrown in for the sake of it. In Starry Eyes there is a situation where Sarah is confronted with the film producer’s perverse advances, which lead to uncomfortable moments. Where some films might be very graphic, this one goes to the point of showing specific moments while not having to push things too far. Yes, it is disturbing. Yes, we clearly know what is going on. But the filmmakers could have shown us far more, and they didn’t, which is something not often seen in the way horror directors treat such subjects in terms of imagery. There is a subtle way to still be disturbing. In this sense, Starry Eyes achieves a level of disturbing horror where it is frightening while not having to resort to full-on explicit imagery. Kolsch and Widmyer save the explicit violence for where it counts: blood and cuts.
Overall, the film has an incredibly powerful message about the nature of fame and stardom. There is a transformative experience which goes along with becoming a massive movie star, and Starry Eyes explores a very real, disturbing look at what such an experience might be in the horror film realm. I imagine the writers, also the directors of the film, have had their own terrible experiences along the way with dirty, slimy movie execs and other such types. It oozes from most of the scenes. There is clearly an understanding and empathy on behalf of the filmmakers for struggling artists. They get it, they’ve probably been there. And they have really made a great film about what it must be like for such artists living in Hollywood, trying hard with every fibre of their being to become ‘something or ‘someone’. It’s a great metaphorical tale here.The final 20 minutes of the movie had my jaw dropped. I couldn’t stop. It was incredible, and graphic. There are some really great effects here. One in particular had me saying WOW out loud to myself; incredibly brutal and well-done. Lots of blood. There aren’t a huge amount of violent images for a horror film, but the ones here really deliver. A few really unflinching looks into some bloody moments.
The whole film is wonderful. I am highly impressed with Starry Eyes. The ending was not what I’d hoped. It wasn’t terrible, they just could’ve ended the film in a better way. There were more sinister ways it could have come to a close, and I wish the filmmakers had chosen one of those paths. Either way, I still loved this film, and the end doesn’t ruin anything at all.There are honestly a lot of, what I call, pausable horror films out there these days; movies where you can pause a hundred times because you’re not really that into it, getting to the end becomes less and less a priority, yet of course you eventually finish amongst all the pauses. Starry Eyes, on the contrary, is not at all one of these. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. Everything clicked here.
The acting (not just the lead actress either; Amanda Fuller and Noah Segan, both of whom I already enjoy, are pretty good here in smaller supporting roles, and Louis Dezseran as the Producer certainly freaked me out), the score (think of a postmodern take on 80s synth-style horror score), and everything in between really worked together here. I suggest checking out Starry Eyes as soon as possible. I know I’ll be on the look out for more by everyone involved. Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer will hopefully continue bringing fresh and unique horror to us after what should be great feedback to their spectacularly creepy film.