I’ve been waiting for a New Millennial Hollywood horror film now since, well, the turn of the century. There have been a few green shoots in films like the wonderfully bonkers ‘The Nines’ and the hideously claustrophobic ‘Buried’, while most of the really original work has been coming from Spain, South America, Korea and even the UK, with Ben Wheatley’s ‘Kill List’ heading my list of favourite films.
‘Starry Eyes’ is a Hollywood indie that feels fresh. In one way it’s a very old idea (I think I first became aware of it in an old Amicus anthology film) but has been freshened up for a new generation. What happens to the new ambitious but disempowered young? Do they accept McJobs, keep their dreams and drift, or capitulate and compromise? And what about youth VS money?
Sarah is a would be actor in a crummy bill-paying job, attending doomed auditions, until she reads for a clearly Faustian role. When she finds out what the audition involves (and the satanic symbols everyone wears are an early giveaway) she backs out and returns to her old demeaning job – but will she cave in and do anything to be a star?
We can see where this is going pretty early on, but what’s important here is the subtlety that directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer bring to the proceedings. They’re more interested in the mechanism of The Deal than its payoff. And the characters involved are well-rounded, especially the lead, Alex Essoe, whose commitment to a very tough role is superb. Sarah’s old boss is a schmuck but a well-intentioned one. Her friends have abandoned ambition and seem doomed to fail – yet they have something together, in a night-time pool scene which shows that being young and penniless can still be bearable. And Sarah herself is an interesting creation, cast so that we can see she’s never going to be a great star because she has something lacking. As she changes she risks losing our empathy entirely (and eventually does), but by this time we’ve invested so much in her transformation that we keep watching.
There’ll be plenty of reviews (if indeed it even gets reviews here) suggesting that this is a mash-up of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘Lost Highway’, but there’s originality aplenty, especially in the truly harrowing murder that takes place in the film’s later stages. Kolsch and Widmyer have drawn remarkable performances from everyone involved, and apart from a couple of leering nude shots which feel out of place, they’re clearly a team to watch.