Starry Eyes, 2014
Written and directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer
Starring Alex Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Noah Segan, Fabianne Therese, Shane Coffey, Natalie Castillo, Pat Healy, Nick Simons, Maria Olsen, Marc Senter, Louis Dezseran
A hopeful young starlet uncovers the ominous origins of the Hollywood elite and enters into a deadly agreement in exchange for fame and fortune.
Starry Eyes poses one simple question – just how far will someone go to “make it” in Hollywood. It’s a very well crafted satire of the “Hollywood system” with some superb practical effects and features a break out performance from first time feature actor Alex Essoe.
Sarah is your typical failing actress in Hollywood who, at the tender age of 25, feels like she is running out of time. Her auditions are disasters, she’s working as a waitress (at a cocktail bar) and her only real acting offers are from her friends who are making their own low budget movie. But Sarah wants the big chance, she wants the big shot. And that chance comes in the form of horror movie The Silver Scream, which has some very unorthodox auditions. But as she falls more and more into their promises of fame and fortune, she goes through a metaphysical change that turns her life upside down.
The movie feels like a call back to Polanski movies of the 70s and 80s and Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer have clearly taken inspiration from that style of storytelling. The “horror” doesn’t kick in until almost an hour into the movie, which means we spend more time getting to know Sarah as a person as well as her friends, so that when the “horror” does arrive, we actually care. This is helped by sterling performances from all the cast, particularly Fabianne Therese who plays the bitchy and catty “frenemy” Erin. There’s even a fun cameo from Pat Healy, who starred in last year’s terrific Cheap Thrills, who plays the boss of Big Taters, a clear parody of Hooters-type bars which failing actresses find work.
But it’s Essoe who carries the heavy load of the film and she does so with great skill. Starry Eyes started out life as Kickstarter short, so her lack of experience wasn’t a factor for the filmmakers. But as the project grew, so did the need for Essoe to bring her best work. Thankfully for Klosh and Widmyer, Essoe kills it (as well as the cast) and doesn’t look at all out of her depth, even when faced with physically and mentally demanding scenes. Alex Essoe gives the sort of performance that should make people stand up and take notice of her.
Someone on Twitter described Starry Eyes as “Melrose Place: The Cronenberg Years” and that type of body horror has been a clear inspiration for the directing duo who revel in trying to gross their audience out. In some respects, Starry Eyes is similar to last year’s Contracted, but it handles the body horror so much better than Eric England’s above-average affair. The make-up work on Essoe is sublime and her slow descent into this cult world of Hollywood is simply tremendous and shown in gory detail. In an age where this kind of bloodshed and gore can be done with a few clicks on a computer, it’s always nice to see filmmakers who delight in using practical effects.
Starry Eyes features a simple but clever story, a strong central performance and some incredibly interesting visuals. It isn’t one of the best films of the year, nor is it one of the best films of the FrightFest festival, but it’s really interesting and certainly one to look out for when it’s released next year. Alex Essoe is a revelation and Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer look to be upcoming masters of this genre.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.