Every film writer awaits that rite-of-passage where they get their first pull quote, or stars, on either the marketing materials or packaging of a movie that they have reviewed. The title that broke me in was Starry Eyes, a film which I adored then, and still do now. I first caught Starry Eyes at FrightFest 2014, it being the only film that I watched or reviewed at the festival, as I was getting married the following week. Over the years I’ve written about Starry Eyes many times, but below are the first words I wrote on this cult horror masterpiece.
Just how far would you go to achieve your dreams? This is a question that has been asked countless times across the centuries with one of the earliest tales being that of Faust. Since then the premise of making a deal with the devil has appeared many times over; one of the more recent outings was the unfairly cancelled television series 666 Park Avenue.
Starry Eyes tackles the age old fable, but adds a very modern twist. Sarah is a fast-food waitress with big dreams. Living within an apartment building full of other actors Sarah feels like her peers pity her. She is riddled with an unhealthy mix of both incredible self-belief and crippling self-doubt. The conflicting sides of her psyche have several wince-inducing bouts as her frustrations lead her to literally pull her hair out.
Having yet to get a role, and wanting to prove that she is better than those around her, she dives headfirst into an audition with the enigmatic Astraeus Pictures for horror movie ‘The Silver Scream‘. Hounded by her determination to succeed, Sarah overlooks the rather odd set-ups of the job; she finds herself faced with the ultimate casting couch. Anyone with a dream will relate to Sarah’s desperate determination. The film deals with desperation, paranoia and the most deadly of desires, ambition, and showcases the extreme lengths that the soul will go to to reach that ultimate goal of perfection.
A film of this type has the risk of going too far and becoming a parody of itself, but thankfully Starry Eyes dodges this pitfall, and it is all thanks to the performance of leading lady Alex Essoe. Starry Eyes is the first feature for the young actress who shows an incredible range missing from a lot of the scream queens out there. Effortlessly able to switch from angry and angst ridden to pageant queen polite, you completely emphasise with her ordeal. Essoe makes you feel Sarah’s plight every step of the way. Even when her choices take her down a bleak pathway, the audience can’t help but root for her.
There is also some great support from Pat Healy, who reunites with his Cheap Thrills producer Travis Stevens, and the ever wonderful Noah Segan. Healy pops-up as the slightly slimy boss of ‘Hot Tattas’ who tries to get Sarah to give up on her dream and focus on reality, and commit more to her 9-5 job. Segan plays Danny, another dreamer living out of his car hoping to make it as a movie director, who takes a shine to Sarah.
With Starry Eyes, directors Kölsch and Widmyer showcase LA and the Hollywood scene in a very bleak, but honestly realistic way. Gone are the expected glorifying shots of sunshine and Hollywood signs, replaced with a murky and misty visual populated with dilapidated housing and seedy side streets.
The film is very much a psychological drama without a drop of corn syrup in sight. The slow pace though is actually building-up to a glorious tumble down the gore-filled rabbit-hole. The spiral starts with a very bad bathroom and is followed with an even worse bad bathroom. Ladies especially may find these scenes rather unsettling. As Sarah finds herself dying to ascend, the story takes a rather graphic body-horror turn. Think The Fly and you’re on the right lines.
Starry Eyes is not for the faint of heart. Those brave enough to endure will be treated to a wonderful Faustian story with a body horror spin. Think Melrose Place: The Cronenberg years.
This review first appeared on THN in 2014. Starry Eyes is available on DVD and Digital HD now.