Starry Eyes: La La Land if Emma Stone’s character scrapped her one-woman show for a devil’s bargain that saw her vomiting maggots and maybe murdering Ryan Gosling to achieve stardom, Starry Eyes is a more — visceral, shall we say? — take on the typical fable of selling your soul in show business. Fed up with rejection and her job at fictional breastaraunt Big Taters, aspiring actress Sarah (Alex Essoe) agrees to exploit her hair pulling disorder to impress a pair of creepy producers. From there it’s a one-way ticket down body horror lane as she pins her last hope on this audition, sacrificing her dignity at every turn for her big break. Atmospheric and well-acted for a story about a bunch of L.A. wannabes, this is an indie-styled nightmare with a twisted third act that’ll make you think twice about blowing your savings on a one-way ticket to California. Among the supporting cast, the ever-welcome Pat Healy is awesome as Sarah’s uptight manager, revealing deeper layers of character than could possibly be expected from his lame mustache and corporatese.
Carnage Park: Pat Healy again, here putting on a Southern accent as a psycho ex-military sniper who turns his isolated California property into a deadly playground, stars in maverick filmmaker Mickey Keating’s overwrought ode to 70’s action. Proving that style alone won’t save you, especially if you can’t keep it up for the full picture, Keating makes the fundamental mistake of homaging the homager, going full Tarantino in a fast-paced intro sequence that thinks it’s more crackling than it is, before dropping the pretense and going in for the head games traditional of your run-of-the-mill psychological thriller. Also like Tarantino, he shifts gears before the first act closes, jettisoning a pair of fast-talking small-time thugs in favor of their hostage, Vivian (Ashley Bell), who’s forced to wander Healy’s firing range wasteland while he menaces her over an intercom until a predictable battle of wits and wills breaks out. It’s Wolf Creek with something to prove, trying way too hard when it has the excellent Bell and Healy to rely on.
The Visit: M. Night Shyamalan is on the up and up thanks to the success of this quirky horror-comedy that fully embraces his off approach to human interaction. His tendency for awkward dialogue is actually the reason why this documentary-style movie (it’s not actually found footage) works, showing the mystery that unfolds as a pair of teens visit their estranged grandparents in the country. This time the patented Shyamalan twist is prefaced by queasy scenes of grampsploitation involving anything from adult diapers to intense episodes of dementia. Nearly a movie made for no one, be that fans of horror or comedy or both, The Visit‘s makers recognize the need to have fun with the tarnished Shyamalan brand, taking easy aim at dumb laughs and cheap scares. Young costars Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould manage not to be too insufferable thanks to their constantly mocking one another, and Shyamalan delivers enough jumps to keep things moving forward. The AARP may be less amused, but at least The Visit resulted in the resurgence of a unique voice in the American horror landscape.
I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House: Osgood Perkins, doomed always to be introduced as the son of Norman Bates himself, makes good on his connection to horror film history with his own pair of moody horror films, The Blackcoat’s Daughter and this, with a title that isn’t any better written as an acronym (Just look at it: IATPTTLITH). Pretty Thing follows a meek hospice nurse (Ruth Wilson) caring for an author in her secluded country home where all manner of ghostly things begin to ensnare her. Perkins needs no more than Wilson’s sharp gaze and tracking shots that move at speeds closer to an ooze than a zoom to spook us out, but by adhering strictly to his threadbare premise and a feature-length run time, he turns what could be a masterclass in tension into an exercise in formality. Long, looong takes and whispery narration from Wilson stretch our interest to its breaking point, and put more pressure on its few moments of terror to truly jolt us. Wilson’s pert naivete and the occasional appearance of Bob Balaban liven things up, and Perkins sets a decidedly unnerving tone, but without any sense of payoff it may prove a hard watch.