Movie Review – Starry Eyes (2014)

Starry Eyes (2014), written and directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, was partially funded by Kickstarter and made a big splash at film festivals in 2014. The film follows Sarah, played by a very talented Alex Essoe, whose desperation to become a Hollywood starlet leads her to the influence of movie studio Satanists and a dark, especially gory transformation. We meet her as she teeters on the edge, having fits of self-loathing anger and yanking her hair out, and follow her down as she falls ever deeper.

Starry Eyes is well-cast and displays some impressive cinematography, and has an electronic score that is reminiscent of John Carpenter. There is a lot to admire about the film, particularly its striking visuals and its use of metaphor. Sarah’s transformation is itself a metaphor for the ugliness of Hollywood made flesh. As her occultist producer tells her, “Ambition: the blackest of human desires. Everyone has it, but how many act on it?” He goes on to say, “This industry is a plague, Sarah. A plague of unoriginality, hollow be thy name. Yes, it’s a plague all right… You cut through the fog of this town and you get desperation, plastic parishioners worshiping their deity of debauchery. But that’s what I find interesting, Sarah. That’s what I want to capture in this film – the ugliness of the human spirit… This world is about the doers, the people who don’t just talk about what they’re going to do, they just do it! And that’s you.” This speech is key to understanding the changes in Sarah that come after, especially in how she views the mostly supportive friends which surround her. She is told that if she wants to succeed she must kill her old life and be reborn, not realizing yet just how literal this recipe is. The film takes a graphic, brutal turn in the final act, which employs some very impressive practical effects.

Starry Eyes 2014 still

The film as a whole is strong, though some aspects could have been better represented to strengthen it further. The influence of 1960s and 70s Satanist films, seen clearly in the design of the opening title as well as in various plot points, is underutilized. Sarah’s physical transformation, while compelling to watch, stalls the storyline instead of invigorating it. Also, we never really sympathize with her, our central character. We also don’t get to know the friends that surround her and how far back their connection with her goes, so when the story takes a dark turn towards them we’re left to simply marvel at the gore instead of feel emotionally affected. Also, we never see the filmmaking process even though it’s widely referenced – or do we? It’s difficult to discern if Sarah is preparing for a role or already starring in it, or both. Admittedly, this last point may not entirely be a weakness.

Starry Eyes has many strengths and its perceived weaknesses are likely to be more subjective to the individual viewer. It is certainly good filmmaking which comments effectively on the underbelly of its own industry, and it should undoubtedly be praised for that.

Grade: B-

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