Studio: Dark Sky Films
Director: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer
Writer: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer
Producer: Travis Stevens
Stars: Alexandra Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Fabianne Therese, Pat Healy, Marc Senter, Maria Olsen, Shane Coffey, Natalie Castillo, Nick Simmons, Noah Segan, Lou Dezseran
A struggling young actress faces a crisis of character in order to land the starring role in a breakout horror film.
Portrait of a struggling actress: Sarah Walker is every wide-eyed dream chaser that ever moved to Hollywood carrying a suitcase heavy with hope and ambition yet light on resources or avenues into the industry. Sarah passes the time waiting out her inevitable stardom in painted on leggings as a "Hot Taters" girl (read: Hooters) so desperately cash-strapped that her roommate covers the rent while Sarah takes public transportation around a city famous for its car-centric culture.
Los Angeles is also notorious for its dog-eat-dog movie business overpopulated by washouts, wannabes, and various other fake personalities pretending to be someone other than who they truly are. Sarah's "friends" fall into all of those same categories.
Aspiring writers, directors, producers, and performers, these are the types of starving artist twentysomethings congregating together out of a common misguided passion for bohemian living as opposed to any genuine affection for one another. They occupy their unemployed days with big talk about dream projects that will never happen and sharp-tongued barbs of envy directed at anyone on a faster path out of their empty lifestyles.
When Sarah's opportunity to pull onto that fast track comes, she naturally cannot wait to shed the false friends and tight uniform compromising the identity of who she truly wants to be: a star destined for her name on a sparkling marquee. Astraeus Pictures was once the biggest name in horror, and they are looking to rebuild that success with their new feature, "The Silver Scream."
Sarah can become the film's star too, provided she is willing to meet one simple request of the producer. Sarah is about to face the oldest dilemma to ever confront a hungry young starlet: the casting couch. Except the cushions of this figurative piece of furniture are stitched from the brimstone and ashes of hellfire itself.
On its surface, "Starry Eyes" tells a horror story of physical metamorphosis while the deeper theme underneath explores the more intangible terrors that come with transformation. "Starry Eyes" is a body horror movie, but it also makes wise use of the Hollywood dream premise to deliver a frightening fable about duality, false faces, and compromising one's character in a wayward effort to create a new personality based on presumption.
Everyone in Sarah's world is in hot pursuit of a fantasy, and they all want a starring role in their own imaginations. Sarah's boss created his "Hot Taters" restaurant on a dream of building an empire. Her friend Danny has convinced their circle that his script is destined for greatness. In the meantime, he lives in a stalled van whose engine doesn't turn over. Like Sarah is too, these are people smart enough to see the truth, but willfully ignoring it because living the lives of their alter egos is infinitely preferable to living in harsh reality.
The reality that "Starry Eyes" creates is one of smoky darkness. This Los Angeles is shrouded in smoggy mist whose dreary mood is amplified by a synth-heavy 80's-esque vibe that is just like the characters and environment: weirdly upbeat, yet depressingly oppressive.
There is a thin sheen of overacting to some of the supporting performances, but it actually works in the film's favor. Since so much of the context is about people pretending, some of the exaggerated line deliveries, particularly from the casting agents and the producer of "The Silver Scream," help sell the odd David Lynch tinge to the tone. Even on-the-nose setpieces like a well-manicured old man sipping cognac in a wood-paneled office adorned with mounted buck heads plays as in keeping with the environment rather than as cliché.
Keeping the surrealness grounded is an impressive performance from Alexandra Essoe as Sarah. Essoe is tasked with embodying numerous phases of Sarah's physical and emotional transformation, as well as the various stages of her personal and professional lives, and she nails each one of them convincingly. She crafts a character so sympathetic and relatable that when Sarah makes the decision to compromise her integrity, the character can still be viewed in a respectable light instead of as a pitiable slut.
"Starry Eyes" has an unusual amount of extraneous fat that could be trimmed from the pace of its third act, which is surprising for a relatively short movie in the 90-minute range. Usually moody thrillers have an intentionally slow lead-in, and "Starry Eyes" does too, but the climax does not break into the sprint one might normally expect once bodies start hitting the floor.
Having lived in L.A. since 1997, and having spent time at the bottom with people exactly like Sarah and her circle, I found the story and its secondary meaning sadly relevant, yet perfectly on point in its portrayal of that world's feel. Those who see the characters as crybabies with First World problems will have a tough time synching to the film's rhythm. There will also be those who see "Starry Eyes" as a too-simple tale of chrysalis-like transformation and claim I am reading too much into a hidden message about the nature of dual identities.
That latter accusation is entirely possible. But whether or not it is true, "Starry Eyes" still captures a quiet intensity with its world and with its story that accurately recreates the conflicting glitz of grand dreams against the grimly sick necessities of getting by in everyday life.
Everyone makes a compromise of some sort in pursuit of becoming the people they think they want to be or of the lives they envision for themselves. "Starry Eyes" is merely asking the question, which is the greater sin: selling yourself out figuratively, or giving up your soul literally?
Review Score: 75