‘Starry Eyes’: A Scathing and Disturbing Critique of Hollywood [Watch]
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Starry Eyes is one of my favorite horror films of the past ten years. I recognize that the flick has developed a fanbase and even received a certain amount of critical acclaim upon release but I would still argue that it hasn’t received the level of recognition it so richly deserves. So, with that in mind, I am pleased to be shining the spotlight on Starry Eyes.
The film follows Sarah (Alex Essoe), an aspiring actress who makes ends meet by working in a seedy restaurant. When she gets called in for an audition for the lead role in a horror picture, she thinks her luck is about to change. And it eventually does. But the price of success proves to be far greater than Sarah could have ever imagined. To realize her dream of being a star, she must surrender to a cult-like production company that wants to rebuild her in their image.
Upon repeat visits, it has become quite clear to me that Starry Eyes is a film ahead of its time. It speaks to abusive power dynamics and the corrupt nature of the film industry. But it was lensed and released prior to the advent of the #MeToo movement, which makes the film something of a trailblazing effort. Directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer craft a compelling narrative steeped with commentary regarding the way women are used and abused by the Hollywood machine.
Sarah completely loses her sense of self as she draws closer to her dream of stardom and with each step forward, she must give up a piece of herself. It is a little unexpected for a film to call out the predatory nature of the film industry like that because it’s almost like biting the hand that feeds you. But this kind of critique is necessary and I commend Widmyer and Kölsch for taking a stand.
Commentary aside, Starry Eyes starts as something of a character drama and gradually progresses into a horror story. But the characters are so well-realized that we’re not left sitting around, waiting for something to happen. Near the one-hour mark, the horror creeps out of the shadows and into the forefront of the narrative. At that point, Starry Eyes goes from a compelling drama about the perils of fame into full-fledged body horror territory.
This role kicked down doors for lead actress Alex Essoe and it’s easy to see why. She absolutely slays in her turn as Sarah. Her performance makes the movie. Essoe sheds all inhibitions and truly becomes Sarah. The strength of her performance is in the nuance. Her facial expressions, body language, speech patterns, and mannerisms give us so much insight into what she’s thinking and feeling. Though she doesn’t always express herself in words, we never have to wonder where her head is at. Additionally, Essoe does a commendable job of selling the more horrifying aspects of her physical transformation. She holds nothing back and completely surrenders to the role.
Fabienne Therese (Southbound) also delivers an unforgettable showing as Sarah’s jealous colleague, Erin. She nails her portrayal of a fledgling thespian that hasn’t quite figured out how to be happy for others’ successes or even feign enthusiasm to save face. She’s so bold and so catty. She quite literally has some of the best lines in the film and she steals several of the scenes in which she appears.
All in, Starry Eyes is a grotesque and poignant personification of the price of fame. It features first-rate performances across the board and an absolutely stellar turn from Alex Essoe in the lead role.
If you’re down to check Starry Eyes out, the film is streaming on Peacock, Tubi, Vudu, Plex, FreeVee, Pluto, and the Roku Channel, as of the publication of this post.
That’s all for this installment of The Overlooked Motel. If you want to chat more about under-seen and underrated films, feel free to hit me up with your thoughts on Twitter @FunWithHorror!