Starry Eyes Netflix | Amazon Instant | Blu-ray | DVD
Directed by Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch
Written by Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch
Starring Alex Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Fabianne Therese, Noah Segan, Natalie Castillo, Pat Healy, Marc Senter, Maria Olsen, Lou Dezseran Dark Sky Films
Not Rated | 98 Minutes
Release Date: March 8th, 2014 at the South by Southwest (SXSW)
What would you do for fame and fortune? Aspiring young actors face this question on a daily basis. Would you surrender your pride, your inhibitions, your body? Yeah, would you do THAT with a producer for a big break? At first, natural reaction is to be appalled and disgusted. But… after a few minutes thought, imagine the life in the lap of luxury — the glitter, the gold, the cameras. Maybe it would be worth it. An hour of degradation and humiliation for a lifetime of glamour. It’s like selling one’s soul. Or in the case of Sarah Walker, it’s literally like selling your soul.
Debuting at SXSW last year, Starry Eyes is the story of girl with ambition. Sarah (Alex Essoe) lives with a group of aspiring actors/directors and makes ends meet in between auditions working at a cheesy Tater-themed chain restaurant. She is every cliche one thinks of when you hear “aspiring actress.” She clicks an online ad for a role in a horror film called “The Silent Scream.” Her roommates, especially condescending Erin (Fabianne Therese), joke about the title, but Sarah assures them “it’s a gateway part.” ‘
Sarah gets little feedback from the casting directors and throws a post-audition tantrum in the bathroom, including her childhood habit and yanking her hair out. Somehow, this appeals to the creepy caster (Maria Olsen). After Sarah demonstrates her tantrum, she is called back for an even more bizarre second audition in which she simply strips in a dark room while being coaxed to “let go.” Despite these odd practices, Sarah gets reassured of her chances. She’s called to the producer’s estate for a final meeting. Just when she’s convinced her dreams are going to come true, she flees amid a perverse advance.
Sarah is told her decision to leave was of course correct and the old man was a pervert; but Sarah regrets her decision and soon makes a choice to pursue her dreams at any cost. I cannot explain more without ruining the film’s twist and climax.
Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer meticulously craft a character in Sarah who is both conflicted and persistent. She has the qualities of a true Hollywood actress, chief among them, her knowledge that it’s not how you get to the top, as long as you end up there. Alex Essoe, an actress I had never seen before, feels permanently etched into my skin now. She delivers a classic and hopefully breakout performance. During the final 20 minutes, which depict some truly unforgettable scenes of horror and gore, Essoe lets it all hang out. One particularly disgusting scene (involving worms), was done totally legit and without special effects. This girl has some chutzpah!
Starry Eyes reminded me of several horror films, most of all Rosemary’s Baby. In that film, a young, ambitious, and seemingly innocent woman was put through a horrific ordeal, but when push comes to shove, she is willing to stick around through the horror and deal with it. Sarah’s plight is similar, although with vastly more gory and violent results. You’ll never look at free weights the same after this movie. Starry Eyes takes from reliable horror tropes, but creates a disgustingly original film, with a message about how far we’re willing to go for our dreams. Alex Essoe is captivating. As beautiful as she is, she is just as fierce and frightening. Hopefully, this is her gateway film.