Disclaimer: I'm friends with some of the guys behind Starry Eyes.
Starry Eyes made me gag. I physically gagged while watching it. That's not an easy reaction to elicit in me, and trust me when I say that it's a compliment. This movie is amazingly gross, and I love it.
But there's more than gore at play here. Starry Eyes, written and directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, is an unblinking examination of the way Hollywood inhales hungry young actresses who will do anything to achieve stardom. Sarah (a perfectly cast Alex Essoe) goes so far as to sell her soul to the literal devil, and every step of her Faustian deal leaves us wondering, "Will it be enough?"
Sarah's a - say it with me now - struggling actress living in Hollywood, and all of her friends, or frenemies, are struggling actors, too. Except one - Danny's a struggling producer played charmingly by our own Noah Segan, and he's a kind and decent guy, which is probably why he's a film producer who lives in a van. Sarah hates her job at a breastaurant called Tater's, and she lost a commercial to a supremely bitchy rival (Fabianne Therese). So when she lands an audition for a leading role in a film for the prestigious but long-dormant Astraeus Pictures, she wants the part so badly it consumes her. But in order to win the role, Sarah must give everything - her eyes, her voice, her body, her life and most assuredly her soul - to Astraeus. A simple visit to the casting couch isn't going to cut it.
Starry Eyes rests almost entirely on Essoe's vulnerable shoulders, and she is a wonder in it. Sarah begins the film as a tremulous ingenue who resorts to self-harm to cope with her feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness, and becomes something entirely other by the end. Her journey is familiar - she is Faust, she is Theophilus, she is Robert Johnson - but it's the way she hits those beats that feels so new.
And that can be said of the film itself, as well. Starry Eyes' story is not uncommon, but its execution is grand. The film is harrowing and insightful, unafraid to go to places both dark and deep. It's also fun, or it will be to gorehounds and horrorphiles. The effects makeup is wonderful (by which I mean disgusting), and the ritualistic stuff is just completely excellent. Jonathan Snipes is responsible for a score that's smart and ominous and groovy, and the entire package feels like such a splendid throwback to the religious horror of the '60s and '70s.
Starry Eyes is a horror film exactly the way I like them: gross and dark and frightening and fun and smart. It's the kind of movie that is too rare these days.
If you're at the Stanley Film Festival with Devin this weekend, you can catch one of two screenings of Starry Eyes - and you should! The film plays tomorrow night and again on Sunday; get your tickets here.