I was compelled to write this critique after seeing so many glowing, positive reviews for the film – a feeling I did not share.
First, the positives:
Technically, the film is sound. It’s easy to watch, nice to look at. Nothing boring or distracting about the visual compositions. It was shot by a competent cinematographer. Same for the editing and sound/music – it was well done.
As for acting, the lead, Alex Essoe, does a solid job as well. It can’t be easy to bounce between meek and sweetly optimistic, to terrified and revenge-filled. She does it all without ever going over-the-top (though, she does come close).
So what don’t I like? Well, two things stick out to me – things I can’t ignore enough to be able to enjoy the film.
First: as the film progresses, the deterioration and degradation of the lead character, is almost beat for beat identical to a film that came out just one year prior, “Contracted”. Now, in the name of fairness, the fact that I HATED (loathed, despised, abhorred) “Contracted” really doesn’t have any sway on my opinion of the merit or worth of “Starry Eyes”, but what happens to both leads is so goddamn identical I couldn’t help but keep thinking of the former film, and that was distracting. I’m talking identical scenes. In the way that you can only see so many night-vision-nanny-cam-ghost-in-the-room scenes before your brain shuts off automatically whenever it sees another one, I just immediately checked out due to the similarities. “Contracted”, boy. I can’t write a bad enough review for that mean-spirited, aimless, derivative drivel.
The other thing that got me tangled about this movie was that it just doesn’t add up. Look, I am all for suspending disbelief when watching a horror flick. In fact, a pet peeve of mine is people who pick apart the believability of some horror films. (Y’know, films about zombies and monsters and ghosts – they need to be believable.)
However, this film uses a logic to get the lead from point A to point B by any means necessary that ignores (and hopes the audience will ignore, too) any sensible conclusions that could have/would have occurred in the meantime that might’ve led the film in a different, exciting direction.
Take an amazing movie like “Rosemary’s Baby”, which this film seems to borrow from heavily. In “Rosemary’s Baby”, the fertile Mia Farrow is conditioned and lulled into a false sense of security by the sweet, loving old neighbors in her new apartment. Little does she realize she’s being set up to be the incubator for the second coming of baby Satan. The warning signs Rosemary sees are dismissed by her husband (a co-conspirator) as just imagination. And we, the audience, aren’t 100% sure, either – until it’s too late, of course. And that’s what makes it such an effective, well-made film.
However, everything about “Starry Eyes” is so…naggingly off and predictable. Every new scene screams at the lead, “Stop what you’re doing. Why are you doing that?”
It’s hard to enjoy a movie when there’s no one to root for.
I liked this movie. I mean, I think I liked this movie. I don’t feel I’m being fair giving it such a low rating since I wasn’t paying attention half the time. But perhaps the fact that it didn’t hold my attention is saying something. In my defense, the print I watched wasn’t the cleanest – it was murky, old. Perhaps if I saw it on Blu-ray or something I might’ve been more invested. I am, by no means, saying a film needs to be pristine to be appreciated. However, the version I saw…the quality was crap.
That all said, the movie has major pedigree! Renny Harlin-directed, and starring a pre-fame Viggo Mortensen, alongside familiar faces Lane Smith, Chelsea Field, Tom Everett; and bit players like ‘Tiny’ Lister, Larry Flash Jenkins, Hal Landon Jr.,…even Kane Hodder!
Plus, it was written/produced by Irwin Yablans (producer of “Halloween”) and Charles Band (creator of every straight-to-video horror movie), respectively.
So where’d they go wrong? I can’t really put my finger on it. I will say, however, the movie is filmed with some sort of bluish filter on the lens – or they were using blue lights – whatever it is, the movie is like BLUE, the whole thing. And while it’s a unique, creative choice, it just made the film feel monotonous and washed out. But then, perhaps it was the print I watched.
Lastly, it should be noted, this was one of several “executed-prisoner-comes-back-to-life-and-seeks-vengeance” films released within the same two year period. Others include “Shocker”, “The Horror Show”, “Destroyer”, and “the Chair”.
Let’s just get this out of the way: the box art is terrible, basic, and derivative, and does not do the actual movie justice. This, I promise.
That said, I would argue this is the best un-hyped horror film from 2014 that I just watched, truly. Meaning: until I saw a glowing recommendation for it on Twitter, I had never even heard of it. I knew nothing about it. I briefly watched the trailer beforehand, but went into it pretty blindly.
I hate to even compare it to “Sinister”, because this is a far superior film, but it follows a very similar trajectory of “guy realizes murders were committed in his home after viewing some old reels, and now he thinks he’s being stalked/haunted by the original killer”. But as I said, this movie does a far better job with that structure than “Sinister” did.
There are other familiar elements, from other great horror movies, that seem to be woven throughout. In both tone and setting, it occasionally gives off vibes of Jacob’s Ladder, Pet Sematary, Candyman, Ringu, Mothman Prophecies, and The Babadook. It’s a really great horror movie for horror fans.
Plus, it’s beautifully shot, with wonderful use of colors and shadows. It’s set during Christmastime, so there are eye-catching, twinkling bokehs throughout the film.
And the music is a major plus, too. Frenetic, frantic, scraping strings that sound like the buzz of angry bees – it compliments the unsettling and intense plot perfectly.
I give this film such a good and thorough review because so rarely do I come across a movie I’ve never seen — never even heard about — that I am so impressed by and end up enjoying so much.
Two severed thumbs up. Go watch this movie.
This review originally appeared on Letterboxd.
If 60s-era Roman Polanksi and 80s-era Tim Burton had a baby (and lord knows, Roman would try), the resultant drooling beast would be this film.
And I mean that in the best way possible.
Beautifully shot, great set design, and truly terrifying. It lives up to all the hype it’s been receiving.
This review was originally written for and posted on Letterboxd.
A pretty fun, cool little flick that combines LARPing and a bloodthirsty lab baboon.
Some med students (and their professor) play an after-hours live action role playing game in the medical building where they practice/study (hey, why not?) This is also the facility that houses all the monkeys they do testing on, including Shakma, their most recent testee. Whatever they did to ol’ Shakma has made him (her?) super aggressive and looking to tear some faces off. Shaks gets loose and hunts our clueless students down one by one.
The film loses some points for not using Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey” in any way. Shakma the Monkey, “Shock the Monkey”? C’mon people!