Allegory can really go one of two ways. It can be a subtle message that only really makes sense when the metaphor legend is handed to you as an audience. Animal Farm’s genius, for example, is really only clear in its allegorical intentions when you are handed the list which explains who the cows and pigs actually represent. Then there are the allegories that have no time or patience for any such narrative veiling. Starry Eyes, the new film by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, is the latter kind of allegory. The source they are lampooning is so obviously front and center that the audience can feel the ridicule and anger from the first frames of the film. The allegory itself? Satanist as Hollywood execs. As you can guess, it isn’t subtle. Luckily, though, it is effective and ultimately disturbing.
Starry Eyes follows Sarah (Alex Essoe) and her group of friends as they navigate the world of struggling actors and filmmakers in Hollywood. Sarah finds herself at the doorstep of a big opportunity, the lead role in a Hollywood, big-budget film. The only issue, however, is that to ultimately land the role Sarah finds herself being asked to cross an ever-increasing line of sacrifice. The premise, then, is how far this actress is willing to go to be a “success” as Hollywood sees it.
As you can see, the set-up and the ultimate horror genre-slant the narrative takes leads this film about as far from subtle allegory as one could get. The filmmakers here aren’t interested in clever inside pokes at a ridiculed source. Instead, they present this cynical, and sometimes very angry, view of the Hollywood system in the constrains of a satanic cult. The cult alone says volumes on how seriously the filmmakers want to demonize the industry. Sorry, that pun just presented itself. With that demonization of an entire system, the rest of the film plays like the struggling artist’s version of Dante’s Inferno, each sequence a different level of Hollywood hell.
The remarkable thing about Starry Eyes, however, is that it manages to both vilify our protagonist and somehow make her wholly sympathetic. As Sarah travels through her levels of hell she is both the victim and the one inflicting victimization onto others. In each scene she grows both more repugnant and more tragic. That, in the end, is what makes Starry Eyes stand out from other films in this genre. The protagonist and her ultimate Faustian tragedy is so well crafted and viscerally executed that the audience is left with nothing but broken and conflicting emotions towards our main character and her story.
In that sense, Starry Eyes follows in the footsteps of Polanksi and Cronenberg and does them proud. A woman falling apart in every sense of the phrase is forced with impossible decisions and a bittersweet ending that makes the horror not only scary, but heartbreaking. That alone makes Starry Eyes a pretty exceptional film.