Directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer
Making it in Hollywood is a killer in directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer’s thoroughly angry Starry Eyes, wherein aspiring actress Sarah (Essoe) learns the grim price of hitting the Big Time in Tinseltown.
Working as a waitress in Hooters-esque diner ‘Big Taters,’ Sarah is becoming increasingly disillusioned with her life and apparent failure to break into showbiz, not to mention also getting fed up of hanging around with her group of aspiring creative ‘friends’ – all of whom seem to simply be treading water instead of making any sincere effort, with the single exception perhaps of a sympathetic turn by Noah Segan as wannabe director Danny, who is getting ready to produce an independent film from his own script.
When Sarah is invited to audition for a new horror movie called The American Scream, to be produced by the highly reputable Astraeus Pictures, she’s over the moon. The process, however, in a turn of wonderfully dry humour is much more hostile than she was expecting, which leads to an unwitting demonstration of her personal method of dealing with stress: painfully yanking clumps of hair from her head.
This activity leads the casting agents to praise her for her ability to push further than most and invite her for a second audition before finally setting up a meeting with the film’s producer, which turns out to be much more of a ‘casting couch’ situation (sporting a glimpse of a Satanic-looking brand on the producer’s hand) than Sarah had expected. Fearing the loss of the role after refusing to offer oral ‘services,’ Sarah relents and performs that which is required to land her the place. As rumours of her activities spread amongst her friends and drive a derisive wedge between them, Starry Eyes metamorphoses into body horror territory as Sarah discovers the cost of her Faustian pact and finds herself rotting from the inside out – confined to bed, wracked with pain and vomiting maggots in a similar kind of physical breakdown to that seen in last year’s Contracted.
When the further price of success is revealed to her, Sarah is burdened with the choice of rotting away or making the brutal sacrifice of all that she has in order to make that final leap to stardom. The result is both nihilistic and unsurprising.
While technically well presented, including a perfectly fitting score by Jonathan Snipes, the biggest problem with Starry Eyes is its characters. As a protagonist, Sarah is simply too unhinged and standoffish to really get behind from the off. Yes, she’s disillusioned and stuck in a rut, but her weakness is frequently overbearing and the hair-pulling is seriously annoying. Little is done to endear any of the characters involved (besides the aforementioned Danny, who appears to be the most genuine friend of the lot of Sarah’s associates), so by the time the carnage starts, it’s difficult to care about the futures of any of them. That isn’t the fault of the cast, mind you, who give it their all throughout, especially lead Essoe, who finds herself shoved through a gamut of emotional situations and more than a few compromising positions. Once the murderous ball starts rolling, though, the gore is plentiful and unpleasant – featuring a dumbbell head mashing sequence that is truly nasty.
Still, it’s once it all kicks off that you’ll realise that all Starry Eyes has left to run on is its angry metaphor – a much too on-the-nose, and thus inevitably pedestrian and predictable, rooftop condemnation of an industry in which the only way to the top is sucking cock and climbing a ladder of friends and acquaintances used up and discarded. Is this true? Is the real price of big screen fame the destruction of morality, all that you were, and rebirth as a beautiful monster? Kolsch and Widmyer certainly seem to think so, but a filmic condemnation of an industry’s penchant for exploitation of hopeful starlets which comes exasperatingly close to doing just that doesn’t seem the best way to get the point across.