Hallow-vent Calendar - Day 10: Starry Eyes

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Welcome to our Hallow-vent Calendar; a horror-film-filled daily countdown to our favourite spooky celebration, Hallowe'en. For Day 10, David Ames looks at Starry Eyes...

I sat down with my Uncle Paul to watch today’s film, Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s 2014 movie Starry Eyes, a movie that I had read some pretty decent reviews over. I was excited and intrigued because of those reviews, especially the critical acclaim it seemed to garner at SXSW. Sadly, this is another film that goes in the loss column for me.

The movie focuses on a girl named Sarah, a struggling actress living with her millennial friends in L.A., all of whom are trying to become something special in the film industry. Sarah is consistently mocked in very passive aggressive ways by some of her social circle but she eventually lands a callback for a famed company. The interview process and the callback are eerie and something is off but before we know it, Sarah is called to meet the producer. From here, the question becomes how far will she go to achieve stardom.

Did you get that…Stardom…Starry eyes? Clever, right?

Yeah not so much here either. This film has some very well-done elements, namely the wonderful use of practical effects as Sarah begins to decompose while still alive. The blood and gore are not too shabby and there is some great use of contrasting colours which help blood to pop and symbolism to reign supreme.

This however is where the film also falters. The creators of the film seem to rely too heavily on symbolism. She’s in muted colours and then in bright red (passion), and then eventually in black (when she gives up her innocence). The film seems to utilise far too many tropes from far too many subgenres and so instead of being an okay to decent possession, cult, or body horror film, it loses focus and jumps from one to the next and back again. The movie isn’t really sure what it wants to be and that is mixed with a cast of characters who are so unlikable (even Sarah) that I don’t buy into their struggle.

All of Sarah’s social circle are two-dimensional characters who we don’t ever truly learn to care about and who seem so self-centred that they become even more unlikable, bordering on unbelievable. No one seems to notice that Sarah is decomposing before their eyes, and it is obvious. That’s another high point in the film. The makeup department delivered on all fronts as Sarah’s transformation looks great visually. Alex Essoe does a pretty decent job once the film progresses into its third act but it becomes a mishmash of Contracted, Rosemary’s Baby, and a teen slasher movie (in character design). Also, there is a character that is trying so hard to be Patrick Bateman from American Psycho that I was almost positive I would see the character receive a cease and desist letter. Don’t worry—you can't miss him.

The message is clear throughout the film. Unbridled greed, lust for power, and ambition eat away at a person and eventually kill them, turning them into a monster. We are told this about 20 minutes into the film and then we are beaten over the head by it for the rest of the movie. There is also the literal “birth” that Sarah undergoes at the end of the film that was almost a visual pun in the way it was shot.

There is also gratuitous use of low bass notes to signify importance. It is something we see in horror movies quite a bit, as if the directors are telling us to make sure we pay attention to something creepy happening. The only issue with that is it becomes almost condescending. Used sparingly, this trick is actually very effective but overuse here renders that trick useless.

Alex Essoe is genuinely good throughout the movie and has some great scenes but every other actor comes across as terribly wooden and forced. The ending is worth sticking around for if you enjoy blood and gore. Sadly, I could tell what would happen from the beginning, and not in a fun way like You’re Next. Instead, it became a painfully obvious trope-ridden cliché of a film. It had serious potential and the very end of the movie is genuinely awesome. The last 15 minutes or so are solid. If only they could have been attached to a better beginning.

If this film is supposed to be a clever, satirical take on the movie industry and the millennial mindset, then it was incredibly successful. Sadly, it felt less like that and more like a horror movie trying too hard. The movie, for all its flaws, does some relatively great work with the use of colour and blood but really the highest point of the entire film were the practical effects which were actually pretty stellar.