DVD REVIEW: STARRY EYES / CERT: 15 / DIRECTORS: KEVIN KOLSCH, DENNIS WIDMYER / SCREENPLAY: KEVIN KOLSCH, DENNIS WIDMYER / STARRING: ALEX ESSOE, AMANDA FULLER, NOAH SEGAN, FABIANNE THERESE / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 16TH
Sarah (Essoe) is an aspiring young actor desperate for stardom. Living in LA, neurotically poking and prodding her too-thin body every morning, waiting tables at a diner while simultaneously checking her phone for the latest casting call, she is no different to thousands of other unknowns who would sell their soul for a chance at fame. And when Sarah auditions for a role in a new film called ‘The Silver Scream’ she gets that chance, not realising until it’s too late that the producers she’s working for are Satanists and that selling her soul will involve a sickeningly visceral and brutally violent transformation. There will be slaughter before Sarah can be reborn.
Starry Eyes was a massive hit at last year’s Frightfest (and in similar festivals across the world) and from the opening moments it is easy to see why. This isn’t a ho-hum devil worshipping potboiler, it’s a scalpel-sharp character study of a woman who is already mentally unwell - she pulls her hair out in frustration after a bad audition and, after flunking her first audition for ‘The Silver Scream’, has a full-blown fit in the bathroom. A fit that impresses the film’s Casting Director so much she asks Sarah to come back into the audition room and repeat the fit in front of her. So, from the very first scene, even before she finds out about ‘The Silver Scream’, Sarah is a character in extremis, who is already primed to take us on a very bad journey.
The film is also a brilliant dissection of low-level Hollywood and the vapid shallowness of Sarah’s friends, all wannabe actors, directors and writers who pretend to support her when she’s down but actually consider her to be something of a joke until Sarah’s job on ‘The Silver Scream’ starts to look serious; the production-line cruelty of the film business, the producers concealed by darkness while the fragile auditionees are pinned by the spotlight, contorting themselves through every spiteful command, eager to be manipulated and humiliated if it brings their dream just a hairsbreadth closer to reality. ‘Be careful what you wish for,’ Starry Eyes seems to say, ‘Because if you get it, it will turn you into a monster’. In Sarah’s case, quite literally.
Starry Eyes is exceptionally smart horror filmmaking, Sunset Boulevard meets Rosemary’s Baby via the ickiest of David Cronenberg’s body horrors. Co-writer/directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer have created something very special here – a movie that is not only a dead-on satire about the film industry and the hunger and moral sacrifice required to succeed, it also makes something new and fresh out of a well-worn horror staple. With the exception of a few ‘70s classics, films about Satanism and the Devil have generally been B-movie fodder, but Kolsch and Widmyer, together with a fabulous cast (Alex Essoe as Sarah and Maria Olsen as the Casting Director are particularly outstanding) and Jonathan Snipes’ playfully fairy tale musical score, have elevated the Satanic horror to A-movie status.
Miss this at your peril.