STARRY EYES (2014)
Directed/Written by: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
STARRY EYES is truly brutal, as I was hoping, for several reasons. The first being the poster/box art for the film. It’s a picture of a beautiful female face, with skin of deathly alabaster white-blue, staring upwards at the sky. There is an innocence in her swirling and odd, off-color turquoise eyes; a purity. While each eye has an inverted star carved around it, she still looks up, her expression not one of terror or agony, but one of an almost ecstasy of sorts, replete with a soothed Mona Lisa smile to finalize this portrait of paradox, for that is exactly what this film is. It is a near brilliant, all too realistic (in certain ways) portrait of a paradox.
The other reason? Well, it really has nothing to do with the movie, per se. There’s an old, beautiful Roky Erickson love song called “Starry Eyes,” that I absolutely adore. I do wonder on some level if the title may be an homage of sorts to the amazing Mr. Erickson. Anyone who knows anything of Roky’s long, weird life will understand exactly why that would be.
Ok, enough yapping. Onto the film itself. It is about a girl in her mid-20’s named Sarah (Alex Essoe), who is living in Los Angeles, in a house with several other “fame hungry” friends, every one of them in L.A. to become actors, directors, screenwriters - - - they all have their individual goals, but are also all fairly lazy and unmotivated, completely self-absorbed, and center their lives on a party-all-the-time lifestyle. All but for the naturally awkward Sarah, a very attractive, if somewhat plainish girl, who goes to tryout after tryout, not a one of which comes through. She either freezes before the casting agents, loses all affect while trying to remember lines, or shifts into a high-end melodramatic style that is just a bit too much.
As the stress builds, after each audition she fumbles, she goes into a private area (usually a women's bathroom) and proceeds to release it, exploding into a state of primal rage upon herself, ripping out handfuls of her own hair, shrieking at the top of her lungs, and thrashing her body about everywhere. Then she pulls herself together and goes home to her sickeningly non-empathetic friends (who continually laugh and mock not only her audition choices, but her failures as well). Then she goes to her hated job at “Tater’s” (an decent play on those wretched “Hooters” restaurants), where she works for a sexist, manipulative douche of a boss (played by Pat Healy, one of my current favorite indie-weird actors), who basically tears her down into telling her she’s “always Tater’s Girl first.”
As she begins to feel evermore trapped, and act as though she is slowly shutting down inside, she gets an odd email audition invite for a film called “The Silver Scream,” from an apparently ancient and ailing indie-company named Astreus Pictures. She blows off work to go to the audition, and tries out. The casting agents are cold, weird, impatient, creepy, and serious, all quite intimidating to Sarah, though she still does her audition, to which they are not thrilled. Sarah goes into the women’s room and has her worst fit yet, which happens to be silently witnessed by the female c.a. The agent is so impressed with Sarah’s explosion that she asks her to come back immediately and do it again. Which she does, this time going full-on primal, writhing around like a rabid beast as she shrieks and tears at her skin and rips even more hair out. NOW they are impressed. They want her to audition again, and give her a day.
Sarah excitedly rushes home to tell her housemates (I say housemates because quite frankly, as friends, they suck), who feign excitement for her, until they find out it is for Astreus, after which they go right back to the mockery.
At the second audition, she cautiously enters a pitch black room, when a spotlight suddenly shines on her, and only her. She is asked by the casting agents, whose voices command from the blinding blackness into which she cannot yet see, to “get bare.” They tell her to strip, which she quite begrudgingly does, and they speak to her in hypnotic tones as the spotlight begins to flash. This is, visually, one of the strongest moments in the film, as with every strobe-like flash of the light we see something is changing within Sarah. The opticals here are amazing, as we begin to see flashes of something sharp-toothed and long-clawed within each successive blast of light. And the c.a.’s speak to her in an affectless, Neurolinguistic Programming-like manner, about the primal being within and its importance, and that “Gateways will be opened.”
She immediately gets a third callback. She goes and meets the head of Astreus Pics. He speaks of her will, power, drive, determination, and “explains” the business to her, what a vile system it indeed is, but how necessary as well. Then he basically asks for a lil “couch-test casting,” to which she momentarily considers, then runs from. But not before he has a chance to feel her up and rub his withered hand merely once under her skirt and over her vag. While doing this, he whispers into her ear “The Gateway Is Open.” After this incident, everything about Sarah begins to change.
She wakes up off, sick, out of sorts. She looks like she’s got the bird flu. She tells her friends she may have the role, and about the attempted “couch-test,” which apparently depends on whether or not she gets said role. Once again all her shitty friends manage to do is be their usual unsupportive selves. So she goes angrily to her job at Tater’s and is essentially forced to beg for it back. Then immediately gets a text, saying shes got the part, and quits on the spot, even smacking her manager in the face incredibly hard (for Pat Healy’s sake I hope it was in one take) before storming out and going to Astreus Pictures.
From here on, every aspect of her being changes. Her frail naivete becomes vicious, paranoid madness. She begins to show signs of post-sexual abuse/rape trauma, her slight flu progressing quite rapidly, her paranoia increasing exponentially. She keeps calling Astreus Pictures, obsessively so, only to receive no answer. She finds herself bed bound by her sickness, and runs into the bathroom just in time to projectile vomit profusely. What is it she vomits up? About 5 gallons worth of black, writhing maggots. But it doesn’t stop there. Her face is changing, her hair falling out on its own. In fact, she’s losing everything made of carotene, in one excruciating scene of slow fingernail violence. Her inner body develops a sickening odor (which is crudely noted by a housemate), and a dreadful slime begins to sluice from her nether regions.
Sarah begins to get horrible, strange, and taunting calls from the Astreus CEO. He cackles at her through her cellphone “You thought this would be painless, easy? Laid out for you? You can die, or you can be reborn,” as she wanders the dark L.A. night streets, confused and sick.
It’s just after a viciously primal, bloody, unexpected attack on the “friend” who made the unnecessarily cruel “vaginal stink” comment that the now rotting, demonic looking Sarah feels the power and rush of what she’s been “working to achieve.” This sends her on a lightning quick, Richard Speck-like rampage of incredibly violent and gory murder of everyone in the house. She also learns along the way just how difficult it is to snuff out a human being, but catches on pretty quick.
As this is happening, Astreus is performing some sort of odd ritual. Sarah is left alone, with the one person that really did like her, and in fact even had unspoken affections toward her, and she pounces and finally kills him. The ritual is then complete for Astreus, the film ending in a truly inspired piece of filmmaking reminiscent (to myself, anyway) of the Germanic-silent style from cinemas early days of yore. Sarah is indeed literally reborn, growing from the mud (created from clay), bald, naked, beautiful, taking in an old world with very new eyes. This reborn Sarah is in her bed, under the covers, when the last housemate comes home, her one supposed actual “friend” finding her. The girl is hypnotized by Sarah’s new appearance, especially her magnificent eyes, as Sarah draws her into the bed and sucks the essence right out of her. SPOILER ALERT: Sarah has been reborn as Lilith, and is in fact the possible anti-christ. The final frames of the film are dark, quiet, and chilling, to say the least. It’ll have you thinking for days after.
Be warned, however. This is an intelligent, dark, deep cautionary tale. This is not some slasher junk, nor is it a standard splatter-flick (although when called for, it delivers in spades). For as much as I’ve described above, I’ve left quite a bit out. There are odd elements of other films within this. I could see hints of Martyrs, Rosemary’s Baby, Contagion, Altered States, House Of The Devil, and several other possible influences here and there, yet this is wholly original. It also touches ever so perfectly on the difficulties and disillusionments of living a motivated “starving artist” lifestyle, of what it can do, and does, to so very many who let it. Of constantly trying only to receive disappointment in return, of working around the work you have to do in order to survive just enough to try to do what it is you want to do in the first place, regardless of the medium. Truth be told, you could have made the characters painters, writers, musicians, sculptors, performance artists, and still told the exact same story. The fake fairweather friends who’ll use your shoulder like a ladder in a heartbeat. It’s fukking cut-throat. Sarah’s anguish, frustration, confusion, naivete, awkwardness, and desperation can be felt as well as witnessed, due to Alex Essoe’s standout performance, as the film essentially rests on her shoulders, and she carries it both effectively and intelligently. SEE THIS FILM. I give it the highest of recommendations.
Bio: Vincent Daemon currently works for THE INTESTINAL FORTITUDE https://
theintestinalfortitude. wordpress.com/ ezine, his column titled ROSETTA BONES. He is still putting out increasingly strange short fiction, and frequently appears on the ANDROID VIRUS & SEAN SHOW, as well as has many other projects going. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and on fb at https://www.facebook.com/ vincent.daemon.1