“Starry Eyes”is an unusual tale of unhappiness and devotion, served in a form of body horror and a prelude to “Neon Demon”.
Sarah (Alexandra Essoe) is a young, attractive girl, but also a victim of the Hollywood dream. She craves fame as an actress, goes to Sunday acting school, while making ends meet thanks to a waitress job. Soon, one of the auditions changes her life forever.
A portion of modern horrors explore the concepts of an impeccable beauty and self-loathing, entwined in the most dramatic way possible. Given that state pf things, the depiction of women is often pejorative. They are shown as vicious creatures, who crave the idealistic appearance more than anything else. As a result, the madness written all over the beauty contests had to inspire filmmakers – also those ones, who prey on our fears.
The most recent and best known example of such movie is “Neon Demon”, a flashy depiction of the model’s hell. We could add a few more titles, among them “Eat” (2014) and the visionary “The Love Witch” by Anna Biller. We could list more of them and therefore claim that the cult of the transformation of the human body has been a profound source of inspiration for horror creators.
“Starry Eyes” touches on the topic of such frightening beauty and its horrific entanglements too. Sarah is completely obsessed with her ultimate goal and ready for an equally insane (and quite degrading) sacrifice. Observing her changes – both mental and physical – is captivating for the viewer thanks to Alexandra Essoe’s presence. When she “accidentally” becomes a victim of a ritual (a sexual exploitation per se) of a Hollywood’s film cult, Essoe oozes confidence on the screen. The actress balanced both extremes of Sarah, the journey of the character – from a lost, but determined girl, to becoming a vessel for something strangely unreal.
As a result, what’s truly scary in “Starry Eyes” is Sarah’s transformation. Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer – the two directors of the film – did their homework. They understood what made Cronenberg’s “Fly” such a masterpiece, as well as what cause many body horror to fail miserably (take “Jennifer’s Body”). “Starry Eyes” avoids too much focus on the physical side (though it gets graphic at a certain point), but rather than that, the filmmakers look for the psychological aspect. Sarah is stuck between her dream and her dignity, between seeing her body disintegrating and taking a leap of faith that her sacrifice will work eventually.
“Starry Eyes” falls short in other aspects though. The cinematography is ill-inspired – the camera angles could have used more space and a more versatile approach. It begged for more creativity and bolder decisions. As a result, it’s the way this film is executed that gives a hint as to the experience of its authors. Apart from that, “Starry Eyes” shouldn’t be called as an occult-themed horror. It’s vaguely shown, to an extent that we could easily forget it was mentioned between the lines.
The record suggests that films started as a Kickstarter campaign are often gems. Jeremy Saulnier’s groovy & hardcore revenge thriller “Blue Ruin” shines the most in such category, but “Starry Eyes” is a decent offering too. Alexandra Essoe’s performance saved the day, which makes me wish to see more of her in the future.
Starry Eyes (2014)
Dir. Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer
Cast: Alexandra Essoe and her uncool friends,
Hate Grade: 4/10