Starry Eyes

Posted by Joel Copling on November 16, 2014

For about 75 of its 98 minutes, "Starry Eyes" is a pointed and poignant examination of the price of the pursuit of fame. For the remaining 23 minutes, it is something far crazier (and probably antithetical to the point, but no matter). It begins as poignant and ends as black and as pungent as the horror/comedy genre mash-up gets. It's a considerably worthy effort, featuring a magnificent lead performance that demands as much emotionally from its actress as it demands physically, but be warned, viewer: This is twisted, brutal, ruthless stuff when that final twenty minutes arrives, and there's more than a sense of unease before that as we watch a pretty, young woman sell herself and her soul to Hollywood.

She is Sarah (Alex Essoe), a restive waitress for a Hooters parody who is also scavenging for acting jobs that will take her away from a boss (Pat Healy) who harasses her daily. Danny (Noah Segan), a friend and filmmaker, wants to put her in his movie, but she feels it won't get her very far in life; after all, he lives out of a van. Erin (Fabianne Therese) is her rival and frenemy, always cloaking a putdown or insult in the guise of friendly "advice." Other people in her life include best friend and roommate Tracy (Amanda Fuller) and cute couple Poe and Ashley (Shane Coffey and Natalie Castillo), but none of them is truly fleshed out enough to comment on.

She gets an offer from the primary and assistant casting directors (Maria Olsen and Marc Senter) from the legendary Astraeus Pictures. The auditions are scary enough. They ask her to scream--not with conviction, but with the rage of which one of the casting directors discovers she is capable following an unpromising initial audition. They ask her to strip off all her clothes, so as to prove that she is capable of abandon. Her meeting with the company's main producer (Louis Dezseran) goes awry when he turns out to be a skeezy perv. But there's obviously something far more sinister underneath the attractive veneer, and Sarah may no longer be able to retain her humanity.

It is no spoiler to reveal that she does, indeed, go through a transformation of sorts, and Essoe is spectacular in her coldly detached approach to the events. The film is well-crafted, too, featuring a haunting score from Jonathan Snipes and some impressively chilly cinematography from Adam Bricker. The actors all pretty much click, though Healy's thankless appearance (which would have done well to be included in some way during that final stretch, as it would only make sense from a logistical standpoint) and the under-developed friends more or less resemble slasher fodder more than people. The climax is a bloodbath, too, and perhaps the thesis gets a bit lost in the conclusion, but "Starry Eyes" is strong filmmaking, hard to shake and easy to admire.

Film Information

Alex Essoe (Sarah), Amanda Fuller (Tracy), Noah Segan (Danny), Fabianne Therese (Erin), Shane Coffey (Poe), Natalie Castillo (Ashley), Pat Healy (Carl), Nick Simmons (Ginko), Maria Olsen (Casting Director), Marc Senter (Assistant), Louis Dezseran (Producer), Danny Minnick (Reggie).

Directed and written by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer.

No MPAA rating.

98 minutes.

Released in select cities on November 14, 2014.