First thing I want to say is that anyone who says there’s nothing worthwhile or original going on in horror right now can suck it. If all you’re seeing is stuff like Annabelle and Oujia, then you deserve to be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you’re willing to go out of your way to watch something that might ACTUALLY scare you, then there’s a lot out there to see and experience. Case in point, the film I’m reviewing today.
THE BEER: Coronado / Devil’s Backbone Devil’s Tale IPA
Despite initial bitterness (I even got a little bleu cheese on the nose to start), this one opened up to more floral notes as its temperature rose. Hailing from Virginia, Devil’s Backbone teamed up with San Diego County’s Coronado Brewing Company. Devil’s Tale is a collaboration IPA with a huge, full body and hop profile. And as we all know, Southern California tends to be a magnet for ambitious people who want to make it big…
I recommend Devil’s Tale as an even-tempered IPA to balance out an intense film, with the alcohol level to generate just enough buzz to help you get absorbed into the journey that is Starry Eyes.
THE MOVIE: Starry Eyes ; 2014
Written and Directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!
I went into Starry Eyes almost completely clean. Watching one or two trailers, it’s easy to extrapolate that this is a Faustian story of someone who sells their soul for fame. The pleasing part of it was, though, that there was a lot more to it than that. In fact, I’d call it one of the best, most original horror films I’ve seen in quite awhile.
It can be taken at face value, or as a metaphor (or a little bit of both). I’ll get into that later.
The plot centers on Sarah Walker, part of a gaggle of young twenty-somethings trying to “make it” in LA (and not doing so well). Sarah works at a cheesy diner called “Big Taters”, which provides some of the film’s only comic relief as well as some spangly spandex leggings.
Sarah’s head is, understandably, not in the game at Big Taters. It’s also not really in with her frenemies either. She keeps them at arms length, using every opportunity to walk ahead of or away from at parties or out on the street. They’re the type of friends that any young person is familiar with, where one or two might be worth a shit and actual good friends, but the rest are just kind of “there”…for better or for worse. She starts pushing them further and further away when she gets an audition with the fictionally famous Astreus Studios for a film to be called “The Silver Scream.”
“Ugh, I hope that’s a working title,” quips Erin, the most catty of the bunch who keeps trying to knock Sarah down a peg or two. She’s one of those girls who starts sentences with, “Don’t you think…” and ends them with things like, “that’s a longshot for you,” or, “that dress is a little much“?
In other words, a total delight.
When Sarah first goes into the audition, she delivers a pretty generic performance, and is met with the expected callous response. Crushed, she heads into a bathroom stall and throws a loud fit, pulling out her own hair, tearing up her headshot, and smashing her purse against the door. When she emerges, the spooky female casting director is standing outside. Sarah is invited back into the audition room to recreate her breakdown for the casting directors. She gets a callback not long afterward, and she starts to distance herself even further from her friends.
She has their attention, and makes it clear that she is willing to do whatever it takes to keep it. And yes, this involves sucking the producer’s old-man-dick, but it doesn’t stop there. And this where it branches into a sort of nouveau-millenial cross between Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion.
“If you can’t ever let yourself go, how can you possibly transform into something else?”
Sarah’s behavior starts to get extremely weird. Example: one of her friends smashes her nose on the deck of the swimming pool and bleeds all over the place. Sarah and her roommate, Tracy, look down on the scene and Sarah lets out a snort of laughter.
Normally in these stories of a person rising to the top, shrugging off their morals, and ditching / backstabbing all of her friends, it’s not so literal.
“This is a town of doers…dreams require sacrifice, and so do we.”
And when the producer and the other shadowy members of Astreus Studios tell her to “sacrifice”, it’s not only herself, her sexuality, and her bodily health. She also has to destroy everything in her old life, and that translates to her sneaking into Erin’s house and stabbing her and all of her roommates to death.
A lot of the themes in this movie resonated with me, including the loneliness and alienation of young-adult friendships, the pressure and culture of chasing “greatness”, and the allure of self-destruction.
At the beginning of the film, Sarah’s “friends” seemed so self-absorbed that I thought I would be happy to see them go. This included not just the catty Erin, but wannabe director Danny who lives in his van and keeps talking about the movie they’re all going to make together. It’s blatantly conveyed that these people are losers who will never actually make anything of themselves.
Sarah herself flips out on her roommate, Tracy (probably Sarah’s only true friend), about the rest of the group during her downward spiral.
“They’re YOUR friends. I’M trying to do something with my life. They’re venom to me.”
At the same time, when the time comes for Sarah to “bury her old life”, I couldn’t completely disagree with Erin dressing her down. The most tragic part in the midst of sniping at Sarah, Erin flips on the lights, sees Sarah’s disfigured appearance and does a complete about face. Erin’s last words before Sarah slashes her across the throat are, “Sarah, we need to get you to a hospital!”
Wanting more out of life, wanting to be great, wanting to rise to the top, is something that we’re trained from a young age to want as Americans. My generation in particular is publicly reamed on the regular for not “wanting it” bad enough to work hard and sacrifice for greatness. Watching this young woman become distorted to the point of literal monstrosity by these ideas, then systematically stab and bludgeon her “loser friends” to death, is what true horror is really all about.