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Review: Starry Eyes (Dir. Kevin Krolsch and Dennis Widmyer, 2014)

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Sarah (Alex Essoe) resides in LA, the sunshiny place of dreams and superficiality and is an actress, or at least wants to be one; is resolute to be one yet throughout Starry Eyes the line between determination, desperation and ultimate destruction is crossed, blurred, eventually rubbed out – and bloodied – altogether. Sarah tirelessly auditions for role after role in between working at fast-food restaurant Big Taters for sleazy, loser-ly manager Carl (a moustachioed Pat Healy). She has friends, none of whom are particularly close except maybe her roommate Tracy (Amanda Fuller). There is Danny (Noah Segan) who lives out of his mini-van and is ‘determined’ to make it as a director and Erin (Fabianne Therese) a wannabe actress who has had minor success and relishes in being well, a bit of a “bitch”.

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Gamine in appearance, Sarah has ‘issues’, she suffers from nightmares, self-harms and is extremely body-conscious. She teeters on the precipice of insanity, is emotionally raw and literally tears her hair out at the roots to ease her anxiety. Her vulnerability does not necessarily make her weak but her hunger to be somebody does, it is easy to empathise with her – that yearning; she could be your sister, or daughter. Hell, she could even be you. Desires, primal or otherwise, push people in all kinds of directions. Then comes the call-back from a successful, if odd, audition for an Astraeus feature (the company taking its name from the Titan God of dusk, creator of winds and wandering stars) and the casting directors’ insistence that she lose her inhibitions has surprising results on the leading lady – “If you can’t ever let go, how can you fully transform into something else?”

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Starry Eyes is Faustian in nature, a satirical, abject, allegory about the grim underbelly of Hollywood and the true price of fame (there is even a sly swipe at Scientology too). It is emotive in its execution and (bloody) ambition. An almost melodramatic beginning gives way to a glorious and stomach-churning body horror; Matt Falletta and Hugo Villasenor’s practical make-up effects are visceral, disturbing and quite disgusting, in the best possible way, and displayed amid a synth-heavy musical score which sets the mood perfectly. Alexandra Essoe is astonishing as Sarah, she even at the most grim and a gruesome moment, manages to humanise the character and create a filmic-female that breaks the boundaries of the horror genre’s ‘monstrous feminine’.

There is a moment when ‘The Producer’ (Louis Dezeran) refers to the film industry as a plague; a festering pestilence: “hollow be thy name, shallow be thy name.” – Thankfully, Kevin Krolsch and Dennis Widmyer’s unsettling cautionary tale is anything but.

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Review

Review: Excision (Dir. Richard Bates Jr., 2012)

Being a teenage girl can, for want of a better word, suck. Fighting against changes you cannot control, whether they be bodily, emotional, and/or familial; attempting to force yourself to fit into whichever societal mould proves popular can be exhausting, often heartbreaking and wholly unnecessary (survival and hindsight can be a wonderful thing). Within the horror genre, females are often victimised, punished for sexual transgression, through the finality of death, as per the ‘slasher’ movie or can be depicted as teenagers and aligned with the abject. This abjection can be in the form of literal law-breaking, often by committing murder, seeking pleasure through the perverse and/or the secretion of bodily fluids, most often menstrual blood. While some female critics/theorists have read these texts as a further attack of their gender by patriarchy, these “monstrous femmes” have rendered some of the most memorable female protagonists recorded on celluloid. These include cult favourites Sissy Spacek as Carrie (1976, dir. Brian De Palma), Katharine Isabelle in Ginger Snaps (2000, dir. John Fawcett) and now AnnaLynne McCord’s astonishing portrayal in Richard Bates Jr’s Excision (2012).

McCord, best known as a spoiled, rich blonde in the re-vamped 90210 delivers an, in any other generic movie, award-winning performance as socially awkward Pauline. Physically, she is unrecognisable with lank, greasy brunette hair, acne strewn blemishes and hunched stance. She embodies a complete smorgasbord of emotions and characteristics and goes against the ‘norms’ of the female in horror, specifically in her lack of sexual reluctance, aspirations to be a surgeon and the oblivious way in which she approaches life. Most significantly, she is no passive victim. Pauline lives in picket-fenced suburbia in a repressive family unit headed by her castrating mother Phyllis (Traci Lords), emasculated father Bob (Roger Bart) and ailing little sister Grace (Ariel Winter). Phyllis exerts her maternal authority over the whole household and is determined to raise her daughters through the Church and the formality and etiquette of cotillion. At the crux of the difficult, terse and often cruel mother-daughter relationship is the ferocious need for the other’s love and acceptance.

 Pauline is a sociopath but manages to convey levels of real empathy.   She is gauche, fiercely intelligent, obsessive and delusional and suffers vivid dreams, of which only the audience is party; these are often sexually indulgent and display necrophiliac fetishes.  For all of the blood, gore and toe-curling masturbatory fantasies, at Excision’s heart is pitch black, offbeat, comedy. These comedic moments are most evidently displayed in the ingenuity of the casting: John Waters as Pauline’s Preacher-cum-psychiatrist, Malcolm McDowell as her maths teacher and former adult film star Lords as her mother, plus losing her virginity to Peter Pan (Jeremy Sumpter) rounds things off nicely. Bates’ directorial debut is truly impressive, made with deliciously demented precision, a fierce sense of humour and, as its title suggests, is incredibly cathartic.