Tuesday, February 3, 2015

STARRY EYES (2014)

STARRY EYES (2014)
Label: Dark Sky Films
Region: 1 NTSC
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 96 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.40:1)
Director: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer
Cast: Alex Essoe, Noah Segan, Pat Healy, Amanda Fuller, Shane Coffey, Fabianne Therese


Sarah (Alex Esso) is a young struggling actress, just one of the many of thousands of fame-hungry hopefuls that end up in Hollywood with starry eyes and dreams of becoming the next rising star. While she waits for stardom she waitresses at a Hooters-styled restaurant named Big Taters, nice. Love the hot pants they wear with the beer print!  She lives with her roommate Tracy (Amanda Fuller) and hangs out with a group scenesters comprised of wanna-be actresses and an aspiring director (Noah Segan). The most irritating of the bunch is the part stealing Erin (Fabianne Therese), she's quite a bitch who throws snide comments at Sarah with regularity, that one friend who just loves to bring you down. 

Things seem to be on the upswing for Sarah when she is called in to audition for the latest film from the legendary Astraeus Pictures for a film called The Silver Scream. Meeting with the casting director (Maria Olsen) and her assistant (Marc Senter) she gives a damn decent reading but the duo do not seem impressed. Sarah heads to a restroom down the hall and we see that she might be a little fucked in the head, throwing a tantrum and violently pulling hair from her scalp. An earlier scene hinted that Sarah may suffer from some form of body dysmorphic disorder, now add trichotillomania to the mix and you begin to see that maybe she has some serious body image issues, at the very least she's self-harming. The casting director walks in on doing this and strangely seems impressed by it, so much so that she invites Sarah to come back and audition again, this time with the caveat that she tear the hair from her head for them to see, which seems weird but in the dog eat dog world of Hollyweird nothing seems too strange for very long. 

The casting director and assistant as portrayed by he creepy Maria Olsen and Marc Senter are very weird, particularly Marc Senter who reminded me quite a bit of Christian Bale in the role of Patrick Bateman in AMERICAN PSYCHO. It might have been the facial expressions and the way he moved his mouth combined with his wry delivery and over enunciation. It's very creepy and unsettling, which can also be said for this entire film, it has a certain mesmerizing power about, you know it's building towards something and you cannot take your eyes off it - even during the slower moments. 

Sarah is quickly dismissed after her harrowing performance, she's confused by the experience but is pleased to be called back for a second audition just a few days later. At this audition she is asked to disrobe, she is hesitant at first but acquiesces after some prodding from the casting director who encourages her to open-up to the possibility of transformation, a theme that is carried through for the entire film. During the audition Sarah become entranced by a strobe-light, falling into a hypnotic state, during which she notices that the casting director is wearing a pentacle necklace,  suddenly the weird auditions take on a slightly more sinister tone with the introduction of a possible Satanic element. Afterward she is dismissed yet again, a few later she is called-in for a third audition, this time with the producer (Louis Dezseran) of the project. The meeting begins promisingly but she is dismayed when it becomes clear that she expected to have sex, not willing to corrupt her values she refuses and leaves. 

The character of the producer is yet another bizarre player who seems to be a only slightly more exaggerated version of legendary Hollywood producer Robert Evans. Fabianne Therese gives quite a creepy performance, strangely wild-eyed, blinding white teeth, sporting a maniacal smile while he does on about his fascination with the ugly underside of Hollywood, and the desperate ambition that festers just under the surface of the town. 

Returning to her apartment she tries to console herself with a night of partying with her scenester friends, after which she begins to have second thoughts about her choice, thinking she made the wrong decision. Driven by ambition and not wanting to miss her opportunity in the limelight she reaches out to the casting director and agrees to meet with the producer at his home. This time Sarah is not only willing to swallow her pride to land the coveted role, but quite a bit more. During this encounter we have more definitive occult activity as men in black hooded robes emerge from the shadows and a pentagram can be seen carved onto the producer's hand, there's definitely some occult activity going on. 

The next day Sarah begins to act more erratic and she physically starts to deteriorate, there's a transformation occurring within her and we are not quite sure what is happening but something evil is brewing under the surface. She begins wasting away and severe skin sores start to appear, her hair is falling out and her relationship with her friends begins to become more strained. 

Up to this point one could say that the pace of the film has been a bit slow and deliberate, but it is building up to something, you can feel it, and I am pleased to report this is one slow burn with a very satisfying finish. It's a bloodbath of violence that does not disappoint, the film rewards our patience with a nail biting orgy of violence and revelation, no one walks away from this one untouched, least of all the back stabbers among the scenesters, it is quite a sight! 

I was enthralled from start to finish with this one, this is quite a watch. Alexandra Essoe is fantastic in the role of the fame-starved actress, on the surface she reminds me a bit of a very young Shelley Duvall with her slight build, pretty eyes and toothsome smile. She take it to the next level  and completely sells the character's psychological and physical transformation, there's some subtle character moments here to enjoy, this one goes a bit deeper than your average scary film. The supporting cast is just as good, Noah Segan is one of the more sympathetic scenester friends as is Amanda Fuller as the roommate, even Fabianne Therese imbues her cunty character with some genuine emotion when called upon towards the end, but backstabbers get what they get, regardless.

Of note is the awesome retro synth score from Jonathan Snipes with more than a few nods to the vintage score of John Carpenter with a few atmospheric flourishes sprinkled in. Sarah has her own key-tinkling theme which has both darker and lighter variations throughout, and then there's the standout closing credit music, which inspired me to search for the soundtrack on Amazon, sadly it's not available, but his score for ROOM 237 is, hopefully that will keep me happy until the soundtrack gets a proper release. 

You might be pleased to know that there is nudity and the gore is satisfying. Loads of blood and a visceral face destroying that is as vicious and well executed as anything I have seen in recent memory. Additionally, the gradual deteriorating make-up appliances used to show Sarah's wasting away are pretty great, at times it reminded me of the grotesque transformation of the young woman from CONTRACTED, very nicely done without going overboard. There's something for just about everyone here, we have a story that pulls you in from the beginning, bizarre occult elements, bloody violence, nudity and a fantastic retro-synth score, it rarely gets any better than this. 

Special Features: 
- Commentary with writer-directors Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch, and producer Travis Stevens
- Deleted Scenes (12 Minutes)
- Jonathan Snipes Music Video (2 Minutes)
- Alex Essoe Audition Video (14 Minutes)
- Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery (10 Minutes)
- Trailer (2 Minutes) 

Verdict: STARRY EYES is sure to be a film that will be talked about for quite a while, and one of the few to actually live up the hyperbole that preceded my own viewing. A nice slice of slow burn Satanic cinema, one tempered with atmospheric nightmarish imagery, and strange occult elements with a satisfying payoff and an outstanding retro-synth score, this comes highly recommended. 

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