Starry Eyes
Directors: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmeyer
Snowfort Pictures, Parallactic Pictures, Dark Sky Films
Genre: Horror

Synopsis: Sarah (Alex Essoe) would do anything for an acting job, but when she’s contacted by representatives of the little known Astraeus Pictures, “anything” turns out to be a lot more sinister than she expected. For Sarah, the road to stardom is marked with signposts of betrayal, blood, and transformation.

Overview: Stories dealing with the desire for and cost of fame are nothing new. The struggle to achieve stardom is a well-known storytelling trope that digs deep into our desire to be noticed, to be someone. Regardless of the type of notice we desire, there is a quality to this search for fame that is identifiable. We can look on in disgust as key characters compromise their morals in their effort to get what they want, but we also know there is some part of us that wants them to succeed. The promise of Hollywood lights and red carpet walks make for an effective allegory, a story about us, one that forces us to recognize that much of humanity’s foothold on the world was founded in moral compromise, in the flashing lights of warfare and red carpets of blood.

Other horror movies have also tapped into the desire and compromise fame brings, perhaps most famously in Rosemary’s Baby. The genre lends itself well to these preoccupations. In fact, a direct line can be drawn from our stories of stardom to our stories of vampires. After all, what is fame but another means of achieving immortality? Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmeyer’s film shows an understanding for not only the allegory of stardom, but also for the history of horror, which in its purest and most basic form, is defined by the fear of death. In order for us to understand Sarah’s fear of failure, Starry Eyes first makes sure we understand her life.

Starry Eyes takes its time, allowing viewers to get to know Sarah, her group of friends, her job, and her audition process. All of these elements create a 3-dimenstional character that so many horror films forget to build before entering the realm of horror. With 45 minutes or so of character build-up, Starry Eyes could be described as a slow-burn, but I think often we associate slow-burn with stalling before the good stuff happens. Starry Eyes never feels like its stalling. I never found myself itching to move onto the next scene. A large part of the effectiveness of the pacing comes from the naturalistic performances of the film’s leads. Sarah and her group of friends, comprised of fellow struggling actresses and independent filmmakers, are each caught up in their desire to succeed—every act of support and encouragement, tinged with jealousy and questions of how they can utilize these relationships to further their own goals. It’s this trap of indie filmmaking that Sarah believes will be the death of her career and prevent her from breaking out. Kölsch and Widmeyer create interesting parallels between the independent film world and the Hollywood studio system, perhaps suggesting that the only difference between the two is the amount of power its individuals wield.

When Sarah does receive power in the literal sense, from the cultish, old-Hollywood Astraeus Pictures, the film shifts, becoming less of a psychological examination and more of the traditional horror fare you’d see in the ’70s and ’80s. It’s a well-thought out shift that once again calls our attention to the difference between independent and studio horror. As Sarah transforms into something ugly and emotionally raw, she severs the ties with her group of friends–leading to some of the most effective gore effects I’ve seen in a modern horror film. I’m talking video store B-movie nasty–the kind of cringe-worthy kill scenes and body horror effects that turned many of us onto horror films in the first place. Really, it’s fantastic. But the gore serves a higher purpose. Just as Sarah becomes possessed by the satanic power of the studio system, the film evokes that same old-school studio system. Even the time of day used undergoes a shift, leaving behind the daylight scenes that comprised most of the film and instead adhering to the darkness of traditional horror. The film’s shift to darkness, and use of blood for fame, drives home the link between stardom and vampirism. Starry Eyes links our traditional and modern tales of horror, creating a movie monster that’s both familiar and relevant.

While Starry Eyes clearly takes inspiration from ’80s horror, especially in its soundtrack by Jonathan Snipes, it does more than offer homage. Kölsch and Widmeyer draw from the past in order to highlight the present, offering a critique on the ideal of fame, while dispatching the romantic narrative of filmmaking and acting. The end result is honest, chilling, and best of all, places a mirror in front of our own starry eyes.

Featured Images: Snowfort Pictures/Parallactic Pictures/Dark Sky Films