23rd Aug2014

Frightfest 2014: ‘Starry Eyes’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Alex Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Noah Segan, Fabianne Therese, Shane Coffey, Natalie Castillo, Pat Healy, Nick Simmons, Maria Olsen, Marc Senter, Louis Dezseran | Written and Directed by Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer

starry-eyes-cast

Determined to make it in Hollywood, reluctant waitress Sarah Walker (Essoe) goes on countless casting calls in hope of getting her big break. After a series of weird auditions at the mysterious Astraeus Pictures, she lands her dream part. But with this opportunity comes with ramifications that will change her life… literally.

Part occult tale of ambition, possession and the true cost of fame and fortune. Skilfully and scarily showing the ways in which tarnished Tinsel Town can turn a sweet starlet into an ego-maniacal monster, this nightmarish tragedy reveals for all to see what it means when actors talk about putting their soul on the screen.

Yet another example of a slow-burning horror movie, Starry Eyes has a very old-school feel about it. and the film’s sensibilities and morality harken back to the likes of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and 60s horror cinema such as the atmospheric works of Mario Bava and Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls; in so much as it’s core story is built on the premise of devil worship – something that is rarely used in modern horror cinema; in fact the last time it was used VERY successfully (as it is here in this film) was another Frightfest flick, Ti West’s House of the Devil.

However Starry Eyes is not all atmosphere and Devil Rides Out-esque scenes of devil worship, oh no. Nope, the writing and directing team of Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer don’t skimp on the gore once the film’s final third kicks off. And once the gore gets going there’s no let up – with some truly brutal and visceral scenes as Sarah goes on her undead rampage.

Speaking of Sarah, actress Alex Essoe gives a star-making performance with the character, running the gamut of emotions from timid actress, to empower film star to psychotic killer to something else… All in the space of 90 minutes! And much like her character is asked to shed her clothes to show her true self, Essoe seemingly sheds all inhibitions and constraints  in the pursuit of giving a tremendous central performance that both captivates and terrifies at the same time.

And much like many of this years Frightfest picks, Starry Eyes features a synth-led 80s-esque soundtrack which, unlike others screening this year feels less of a Carpenter influenced choice and more shades of Italian horror cinema of the 80s and the mix of rock/synth/pop music and grotesque imagery that permeated the countries output during that decade, in films such as Demons.

Probably a little too slow off the mark for my liking, Starry Eyes is a film of two halves – one moody and atmospheric, one fast-paced and bloody. Thankfully those two halves are held together by a stunning central performance from Alex Essoe and a creepy, foreboding feeling that pervades every inch of the film.

***½  3.5/5

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