Synopsis: A hopeful young starlet uncovers the ominous origins of the Hollywood elite and enters into a deadly agreement in exchange for fame and fortune.
Stars: Alex Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Noah Segan
Director: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer
Running Length: 98 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Where to Watch: Netflix
Review: We’ve seen it before in movies like Showgirls and The Neon Demon and even stage musicals such as 42nd Street so it’s not a wholly original tale: girl comes to the big city with dreams of stardom only to become compromised and corrupted in her pursuit of fame. Celebrity comes at a cost and the moral seems to be that it’s necessary to sacrifice a piece of yourself if you really want to get ahead. So, on the surface, Starry Eyes could be seen as another one of these examinations of Hollywood scruples but in the end I found it impossible to shrug it off.
Sarah (Alex Essoe) is desperate for her big break. She’s working at a Hooters-esque restaurant alongside other would-be-actors trying to fit in auditions during her breaks. We get the impression she’s very much alone in the world with only a few surface friendships and no family to speak of. When Sarah gets the opportunity to audition for a new film for a hot studio, she fails to impress the casting agent and retreats into the nearest ladies room where she has a breakdown. She forgets to check under the stalls, though, and doesn’t realize her screams and violent self-flagellation are being observed by the same woman she just auditioned for. And the woman likes what she sees.
Now back in the running for the lead role, the meek Sarah puts the cart before the casting couch and severs several valuable ties to the only people that care for her well-being. Sarah will be tested by the mysterious producers in several more auditions, not for her acting ability but for how far she’s willing to go to and how much pain she’s able to accept in order to sign on the dotted line.
Writer/Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer start at a low heat and gradually turn up the temperature until a finale where all hell boils over. Is Sarah just releasing some long pent-up violent behavior or is she transforming into the fame monster she’s been all along…whatever it is, she’s ready to consume all that stand her in her way.
The film isn’t all smooth sailing, it’s low budget obviously dictated a short shooting schedule and there are a few scenes/performances that should have been afforded a few more takes. As with every mystery, the more we find out what’s going on the less interesting it becomes but Starry Eyes avoids disinterest by never coming right out and telling us what’s happening. There’s no cheap narrative device that explicitly calls out the origins of Sarah’s transmutation from soft-spoken pushover to freaky fiend and more’s the better for it.
While the supporting performances run the gamut from ‘I want to see more of you’ to ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you’, there’s no doubt Essoe is pretty damn great. Putting her body through the ringer and laying herself bare, we’re both turned off and intrigued by her behavior toward herself and especially to those trying to pull her out of a nightmare of her own making. It’s not a sympathetic character but you’ll likely find yourself empathizing with her as she wastes away.
The finale is probably gorier than it needs to be, considering the preceding scenes are relatively bloodless, but by that time Essoe has you wrapped around her finger and it’s hard to look away. The conclusion may not please everyone but for me it worked because it stayed true to the overall tone. Kolsch and Widmyer have something to say about the Hollywood machine and Starry Eyes proves to be a wickedly twisted way to deliver it.