This film is at its very core a success story. A very demented, gory, horrifying and darkly comical success story – one with tinges of satanic cult horror wrapped in psychological terror. The plot follows a young aspiring actress, Sarah, as she is called back to audition for a horror film that is being produced by a mysterious production company that pushes her to her limits – a dark exchange for fame and fortune.
The film works as much as comedy as it does multiple kinds of horror. The well-executed pitch of heightened reality that co-writers/directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer achieve allow them to play each scene for maximum thrills, scares and laughs. Even at the most grotesque moments of body horror, you can’t help but laugh in shock at what you’re witnessing. You’re laughing because you’re horrified, and that’s okay – Kolsch and Widmyer have constructed the film to elicit those reactions. It should be noted that the most gruesome moments are also some of the most impressive technically – you can’t believe they pulled off some of these makeup effects. The hyperbolic ways that everyone around Sarah acts – again, somehow all at once wonderfully comical and horrifying – doesn’t distract the film’s sense of self, it actually reinforces the ways in which the audience views the film through Sarah’s experiences.
An impressive thing about this film is that it manages to be a running commentary on making independent films as much as it is a horror film. Early in the film she attends a party where other aspiring creatives are. There’s an icky honesty in the way that all these aspiring actors and writers interact with each other. Each compliment is layered in jealousy and manipulation. They all want each other to succeed, but not more than themselves. The film details a truth about aspiring artists – there are those who talk about doing things, and those who actually do them. This is in some ways a film about filmmaking that feels accurate and personal, due to experiences the co-directors must have had.
The way the score interacts with the sound design constructs an inescapable realm of nightmare that Sarah lives in. The sound design is contructed to steep the audience in surrealism, while the synth-based score by Jonathan Snipes throws back to definitive horror films of the 70s and 80s, and adds to the heightened ambience of the piece. Little segments of xylophone-inspired music adds some contrasting feel-good ambience to the disturbing atmosphere, helping the film realize its dark sense of humor.
Alex Essoe’s performance as Sarah is nothing short of remarkable. Her performance feels honest above all. You completely buy her the whole way through – as an aspiring actress, and all the other horrific things that I’ll leave unspoiled as they are best left as a surprise to the viewer. The parallels between her role and herself are intriguing. The role she is up for will kickstart her career, it’s a gateway role. So is this role for Essoe, I fully expect great things from her after watching this film. Sarah is asked to go to ridiculous lengths for a role. Essoe goes to ridiculous lengths in this role, and feels very believable the entire time. Is this life imitating art or art imitating life? I think neither, it’s just the two complimenting each other. I wasn’t alive when Rosemary’s Baby came out, but I can’t help but imagine a similar feeling between those who saw what Farrow was capable of in this film, and from what I’ve just seen from Essoe – it feels instantly iconic in ways you can’t easily pin down.
The mysterious producer, played by Louis Dezseran, is as comical as he is terrifying. His face bares years of bad botox and tanning, and he is wearing a constant fixed smile – one that is simultaneously hilarious and unsettling. His committed assistants played by Marc Senter and Maria Olsen contribute well to the bizarre reality on display. The always-reliable Pat Healy makes a supporting performance enjoyably sliming it up as Sarah’s manager at a Hooters-knockoff.
This movie is a study of the devastating effects of the quest for perfection by way of Argento and Cronenberg. This film will no doubt garner comparisons to Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan and Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes – both films that dealt with the artistic quest for fame and perfection through surrealistic lenses. It calls to mind the sleazy satanic cult films of yesteryear like To the Devil a Daughter and Virgin Witch. What I’m getting at here is that this film is never just one type of horror film, and while it has many influences, none of this film feels borrowed – it fully creates itself into something wholly unique. This could very well be the best horror film of the year.