For the forty years that Steven King’s novels have been translated to film, my home state of Maine has been his primary setting. Maine, as interpreted by King, is a land of many terrors: telekinetic prom queens, sewer-dwelling clowns, rabid Saint Bernards. Perhaps it’s the fact that ninety percent of the state is covered by forested land, amplifying that innate human fear of the unknown and unknowable wilderness, that makes Maine such a suitable setting for King’s horrors to unfold. There’s something inherently spooky about the woods that even as a kid, growing up on property that ran aground dense second-growth forest, I was able to tap into. I remember dragging my younger brother or helpless elementary-school friends deep into those woods, conjuring up faux-folklore about past peoples, haunting spirits and killer cryptids. Read More
Directed by Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer
Starring Alex Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Noah Segan, Fabianne Therese, Shane Coffey, Natalie Castillo, Pat Healy, Nick Simmons, Maria Olsen, Louis Dezseran
At the risk of emasculating myself, I’ll admit that Starry Eyes was so scary that it made me cry. Not ooey, gooey gobs of terror tears so much as the lone, solitary drop leaking down my face as my jaw was busy sagging half-way to the floor. Still, a tear’s a tear and a tear did floweth. So if this film doesn’t at least creep you out, check your pulse because you’re probably not human or may have already sold your soul to the devil. It’s more likely though that you’ll be sitting in a pile of your own yuck after the screening, tired, sweaty, fearful and all the more afraid of the dark.
Like last year’s very frightening The Conjuring, few to no jump scares are employed as this isn’t the brand of chilling that seeks to sporadically startle you and lap up easy frights. No, director duo Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer‘s plans are far more sinister. They would rather crawl deep inside you, settling in the nook of your cerebral panic center, and plant a seed of horror that’ll grow throughout the movie until explodes into a full blown anxiety attack. And just when everything seems like it possibly couldn’t get any worse, you turn a corner into a whole new realm of terror. A maze of shudders, a labyrinth of gore, Starry Eyes triggers your instinctual fight or flight mode and dares you to stick it out.
Wringing all the best elements of a dark character study with the deeply unsettling nature of the body horror genre, Starry Eyes soars on the wings of star Alex Essoe. As Sarah, Essoe embodies the 20something wanna-be starlet who will go to any lengths in order to achieve her dreams of fame and fortune. Her bedroom walls plastered with the icons of 1940s celebrity, she wants the world, and she wants it now. When a role comes along that would be the perfect launching pad to become the next “it” girl, she goes to anything lengths necessary to land the role, even if that means losing herself.
Essoe’s performance is the bombastic center piece of the film – the gory bride on a red velvet wedding cake, the bouquet of rotting roses on some unmarked grave. Her positively brilliant turn as Sarah reminds us of Natalie Portman‘s Oscar-earning performance in Black Swan and Shelly Duvall‘s massively underrated embodiment of horror in The Shining. She’s at once totally in control and veering from the tracks of sanity. As she makes more and more conceits of character and body, Essoe’s arc becomes unforgettable, an indelible bookmark of Starry Eye’s staying power. Without Essoe’s incredible and unflinching performance, this would be a whole new beast entirely.
There’s one point where we feel like all of the build-up may be for naught, that this would tilt into a cautionary tale that peters rather than commits to its zany over-the-topisms but that’s not the case. Once the third act rounds the corner, it’s an unrelenting marathon of what we – and Sarah – can and will endure. It’s chilling, the stuff of nightmares, but it hurts so good.
The whole selling your soul to the devil thing has been done before and probably in more subtle ways but subtlety is not Kolsch and Widmyer’s game. Rather Starry Eyes is such a horrifying victory for them because of how far they’re willing to take us. This deep down the rabbit hole, everything is so pitch black that we can’t see even the faintest flicker of light and they, in this realm of deprivation, they mine the scares perfectly. It’s unrelenting darkness opens the flood gates, letting the horror flows from what’s onscreen and those other thoughts that exist in our imagination alone. It’s the perfect synthesize of shock, disgust and angst that’ll have audiences turning in their seats and watched through the crooks of hands shielding their faces.
Starry Eyes conjures up quick similarities to Black Swan and Rosemary’s Baby but finds a perfect footing between the two so any similarities feel incidental rather than essential. It may wheel in the same thematic ballpark but, if you can believe it, makes both of those features look like a walk in the park. Both Swan and Baby may leave you unsettled but Starry Eyes will leave you shaken. At any rate, it’s unique and visionary take will all but guarantee a long shelf life among horror buffs and is sure to earn a deserved overnight cult following.