Starry Eyes (2014)     ★★★★

Hollywood is an easy target for an artist seeking to explore the Faustian bargain of selling one’s soul. It goes hand in hand with the plight of the many would-be actors and actresses who would happily, or not so happily, trade their morality for not necessarily stardom, but the mere promise of stardom. The aptly titled indie horror flick Starry Eyes travels such well-worn terrain in its tale of a down-on-her-luck waitress who finally gets recognized for a major role in a premiere film, but as she moves further inside the production company everything is suddenly not as it appears.

The remarkable thing about Starry Eyes lies in its execution, its patience, and its attention to detail. It spends a good deal of time establishing its lead character Sarah (a terrific Alex Essoe), and effectively communicates the deep desire she has for success, encumbered as she is by her sycophantic and competitive friends, her dead-end job, and her own psychological tendencies towards self-mutilation manifested by ripping out chunks of her own hair. It helps a lot that her boss at the potato joint is not played as a cliche, but he is a respectable man who is just trying to do the best he can with his circumstances, an intelligent turn from the “get to work” histrionics this stock role usually affords films like this; it goes a long way towards humbling Sarah, an important quality for directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer to make the hell they have in store for her at the end all the more grave.

Starry Eyes introduces its strangeness slowly and deliberately, evolving into something almost avant-garde in its final moments. There’s a brief stretch where the film starts to resemble other recent indie horror films, like Contracted and Thanatomorphose, but Kolsch and Widmyer are probably banking on the fact that you haven’t seen either of those. But it’s in these moments where the film threatens to put shock value before character, and where we begin to get ahead of the narrative, which is certain death for films like Starry Eyes. Luckily the final ten minutes pull out all the stops, delivering a jaw-dropping conclusion that holds the rare distinction in this genre of actually being earned. Over the course of its 100 minutes Starry Eyes evolves from familiar material to a very rewarding and original place, and it is one of the best horror films of the year.

The Verdict: Rave