Star Light boasts a solid Scout Taylor-Compton and a few unexpected swerves, but the feeling you’ve seen it all before is difficult to shake.
Star Light is one of those weird low-budget genre films that you wish was weirder if only so something about it stood out. On the face of it, this teen-focused horror has a setup that might charitably be described as novel, as well as one or two fine performances and some moderately unexpected swerves. But in the execution of these things, Star Light can’t help but feel very much like a film you’ve seen before and will probably see again before long; a well-intentioned and inoffensive pastiche of other, better films, but that gets away with feeling second-hand by at least not having arty-farty pretensions, as in The Lodge or Relic or any number of those insufferable VOD indie dramas with capital-T Themes.
The protagonist of Star Light is ostensibly Dylan (Cameron Johnson), a tearaway teen who has a bee in his bonnet about his mother shacking up with a local reverend (Kevin Jiggetts) who keeps calling him “son”. Johnson gives Dylan a laidback cool-kid demeanor that he wears well, even though it’s obvious early that something about him is amiss. He doesn’t drink, even at messy parties full of scantily-clad girls like Sara (Chandler Rachelle), and when he has the chance to do the no-pants-dance with Sara later, he can’t go through with it. But he seems a nice guy. He frequents a local gas station just to play an arcade game in there and is nice enough to help out a pretty but clearly injured and distressed young blonde woman when she randomly collides with him in the street.
This is Bebe (Scout Taylor-Compton, topping the billing), a secret pop starlet who is seemingly on the run from her enigmatic handler, Anton (Bret Roberts). In the aftermath of the party, Dylan and his friends take Bebe in, and they quickly discover all is not as it seems, though I won’t spoil in precisely what way.
So, Star Light has all the requisite elements: A single location stocked with various teen archetypes, a madcap villain brought to life by a Bret Roberts who seems to be splitting the difference between Heath Ledger’s Joker and a Scooby-Doo villain, and a great deal of mystery surrounding what exactly is going on and even to a certain extent what genre of film this is. It takes a good while to become a horror and when it becomes one it runs the gamut from slasher to demonic possession to outright supernatural hokum, never settling on one theme or idea for too long before it starts toying with another.
In some ways, this is an advantage. The script by co-director Mitchell Altieri alongside Jamal M. Jennings and Adam Weis goes to some unexpected places and has fun getting there, to an extent that I think audiences will appreciate. But the fact Star Light feels like a Frankenstein’s genre monster also means it never really hones in on one element enough to do anything all that interesting with it. By the time the cast started getting offed in increasingly bloody ways I’d long-since stopped keeping track of why things were happening and was instead just enjoying whatever loopy idea the film came up with next. Thanks to some perfectly decent budget effects work, this was pretty easy to do.
But the feeling of waste was never far away. Among the cast, Taylor-Compton felt deserving of a more fleshed-out character, and Johnson has enough charisma to comfortably carry a mid-budget feature — he has very few credits currently and does solid work here as a complex young man who always manages to be likable, at the very least. But it all amounts to something a little disappointingly familiar. This is a small film that shines brightly for a little while, but its light doesn’t linger for long.