SXSW Review: Starry Eyes (2014)

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Cast: , ,
Director: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer
Country: USA
Genre: Horror


Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival. For more information visit sxsw.com and follow SXSW on Twitter at @sxsw.

An exciting new talent announced itself at the Alamo Ritz last night and their names are Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer. Their new movie, Starry Eyes, premiered to a sold out crowd last night to great reception. If you’re a genre movie fan attending SXSW this year and this movie isn’t on your radar, you’re doing it wrong.

Alex Essoe stars as Sarah, an aspiring actress desperate to land an audition that will lead to a big breakout role. She lives with a group of fellow struggling artists, played by Noah Segan Amanda Fuller, Fabianne Therese and others, and she pays her bills by working at a fast food restaurant run by Pat Healy.

If you’re a genre movie fan attending SXSW this year and this movie isn’t on your radar, you’re doing it wrong.

starryeyes_2-1It’s clear from the opening shot of Starry Eyes that Sarah is an incredibly unstable girl. She scrutinizes herself in the mirror, has horrifically violent dreams and physically abuses herself when she feels she’s failed. Watching her in the state she’s in it is hard not to be reminded of Nina Sayers from Black Swan. However, unlike Nina, Sarah has yet to find a role.

At long last Sarah lands an audition, which leads to a weird call back, which leads to an even odder meeting with a creepy old producer. Seriously, what’s with creepy old guys in horror movies? Sarah is offered a chance at eternal fame, to finally be like the classic movie beauties whose pictures line her walls. However, the things that she is being asked aren’t of a high ethical or moral nature. Not to mention everyone who works at this production studio is creepy as hell. But what does all that matter? These people can give Sarah the career she so desperately craves.

Any struggling artist will immediately identify with Sarah’s plight. How far would you go in chasing your dream? One of the many things that makes Starry Eyes so special is that it doesn’t just make its protagonist relatable, but it doesn’t unfairly treat her for the sake of torture porn and needless violence. We understand the reasoning behind the decisions she makes and the consequences that follow. We don’t despise Sarah. In fact in many ways we feel sorry for her, but in so many other ways we can’t help but root for her. Credit should be given to Kevin Kolsh and Dennis Widmyer for writing such a great character, but Alex Essoe deserves triple the praise. The effectiveness of the movie rests entirely on her shoulders, and she effortlessly carries the movie and makes it soar. It’s one of the best lead lead performances to be found in a horror film in recent memory.

The effectiveness of the movie rests entirely on [Alex Essoe’s] shoulders, and she effortlessly carries the movie and makes it soar. It’s one of the best lead lead performances to be found in a horror film in recent memory.

Starry Eyes is a movie that recalls the likes of Polanski, Aronofsky, Lynch and other landmark directors. Multiple times during the film I was reminded of Ti West’s House of the Devil. However, the movie completely belongs to Kolsch and Widmyer. While they might have the assured steadiness of Polanski or the lurking creepiness of Lynch (the movie is heavily influenced by Mulholland Drive), there is no mistaking that this is an original work that is in no way ripping off or copying previous directors’ work. This is an exciting and brilliant work of originality, a possession movie that examines our society’s obsession with fame. Kolsch and Widmyer have crafted something special. Fans of violent and cerebral horror films owe it to themselves to see this film.

[notification type=”star”]87/100 ~ GREAT. Starry Eyes is an exciting and brilliant work of originality, a possession movie that examines our society’s obsession with fame. Kolsch and Widmyer have crafted something special. Fans of violent and cerebral horror films owe it to themselves to see this film.[/notification]

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I never knew how movies could make your imagination soar until I saw "Star Wars," I never realized how inspiring they could be until I saw "Rocky," and I never truly appreciated film until I saw "Goodfellas." Film has been a central part of my life as long as I can remember and it continues to mold who I am. My " movies to watch" list is miles longer than my "movies I have watched" list. My only regret is not having enough time to watch them all.