Starry Eyes is a weird one in that it’s discussed with some reverence by those deep in the horror world, not discussed at all by those outside it, and (despite being available to stream on Netflix for some time now) has previously gone unseen by all of us on this site. Were we glad to finally take the plunge and check this one out? Well check out the podcast and then continue one down for our review. Unless you’re worried about spoilers, in which case don't continue, because those happen after the break.
Reviewed by: Jack
Sarah (Alex Essoe) is a struggling actress trying to make it in LA by holding down a job as a waitress at a Hooters-esque establishment called Big Taters. The job is soul-sucking, and the auditions are not going well. As a coping mechanism, Sarah engages in some trichotillomania. After a particularly bad audition for a horror movie, one of the casting people sees Sarah doing this in the bathroom and likes the realness of it so she has her do it on camera.
After getting a callback for the horror movie, Sarah starts to push away her crew of vapid party-scene friends, who were only questionably friends with her to begin with. She also dramatically quits her job as a “Taters Girl” to focus on her acting. At the callback, the casting people push Sarah’s boundaries by having her disrobe and dance around in a pitch black room with only a strobe light.
Finally, Sarah gets tentatively offered the role, pending a meeting with the producer. And if what comes next is any surprise to you, then you clearly haven’t been paying attention to literally any news recently. The producer, who, incidentally, is one of the creepier looking people I’ve ever seen (and played perfectly by Louis Dezseran), lets Sarah know that she will not be getting the role unless she lets him get his creepy fucking rocks off.
Sarah stands up for herself and refuses. Sad and dejected, she goes back to her friends, and begs for her old job as a Taters Girl back. After getting drunk and doing some other drug (Mark has a theory that it’s Krokodil somehow in pill form) Sarah enters a haze of sadness, and does an about face on the creepy producer’s rocks. After doing the deed, she blacks out and only retains snippets of the evening.
After sacrificing who she was for what she thought she wanted, things go south for Sarah. First, it just seems like an illness, but that quickly changes when the movie goes full-on body horror. There’s everything from hair falling out, to fingernails falling off, all the way through to things crawling around in your stomach and vomiting maggots. It’s genuinely disturbing shit.
After accepting the transformation, Sarah goes nuts and kills the shit out of all of her former friends, one by one and gruesomely. Finally, Sarah is buried alive by the production company that, surprise! Was a cult worshiping the demon Asraeus the whole time. The next day, Sarah emerges from her cocoon, dons the wig and glamorous clothes left for her, and becomes the beautiful starlet she always wanted. Yay?
What the Movie Does Right
A whole bunch of things.
First and foremost is the acting. While only Alex Essoe is really given anything of substance to do, everyone serves their roles quite well. Pat Healy also turns in an awesome fucking performance as the owner and manager of Taters. Alex Essoe does a great job with her performance, too, it’s a believable journey most of the way through.
The effects are terrific. They’re not perfect, but they’re almost all practical, and look great. Especially noteworthy are the body horror sequences and then the following murderous rampage sequence. Brutal, uncomfortable, and visceral effects.
Also in the effects category is the music. This movie has fucking great music, and a really cool theme that recurs often, varied by the other circumstances going on. It’s really memorable and well done. The cinematography is similarly quite good. From underwater shots, to the strobe light audition scene I mentioned above, to having Alex Essoe take her clothes off throughout the movie, but only actually showing her naked on screen after her transformation has happened, this is a really solidly put together film.
What the Movie Does Wrong
The story is no great shakes. It’s fine, but it’s not doing anything too far away from what most body horror movies do: pushing boundaries yields unexpected consequences. Along the same lines, I have no idea what the relationship between Sarah and her friends is supposed to be. Sometimes it seems like they’re old friends that go way back, but then the next scene Sarah is learning for the first time that one of them lives in a van. It’s not a huge thing because her friends aren't all that prevalent in the movie, but it’s odd.
And then there’s Sarah’s change of heart. It feels abrupt, unreal, and like they just needed a way to get her back into that situation. It’s too fast, and not enough has happened for that character to flip flop like that.
Apart from that, there’s just a few nit-picky things like a bald-cap being briefly visible, a knife cut appearing on the wrong cheek based on the actions of the attacker, and fingernails that had just fallen off showing back up when Sarah is crawling down the hallway. Not things that have any huge effect on anything, but things that do show up.
Story: 5 - Like I mentioned above, it’s fine. It’s not pushing the limits of a body horror movie, and some of the character development and plot progress feels under-developed.
World-Building / Immersion: 7 - The acting, effects, and cinematography are laudable, and will keep you invested from start to finish. There are times when you’ll be pulled out, but they’re infrequent.
Scare-Factor: 6 - The gore and body horror are great and will probably make you squirm. Apart from that, the movie isn’t doing too much away from the general ennui of worrying about what you’re doing with your life, and this movie ain’t got shit on me in that respect. Though I’ve never been forced to blow a dead-eyed maniac cultist to advance my career, so I’ve got that going for me.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 7 - The effects are really strong in this movie. There’s a few of the nit-picky things I’ve mentioned above, but this is what practical effects should look like. Earlier on in the film, the blood looks a little too dark and viscous for my tastes, and what’s odd is that it shows up in scenes I think would be better served by just foregoing it. Still a really solid showing.
Overall: 7 - I’m upset that I went this long without watching this movie, especially because it’s available to stream on Netflix. This is a really good movie, and you should absolutely check it out if you haven’t yet.