Making it in show business is often portrayed as a task so difficult, one has to embrace one’s demons and throw away one’s inhibitions in order to succeed. It’s a good thing I’m not planning on getting famous any time soon, because apparently that is only possible via some sort of freaky Faustian bargain. One memorable example is Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, in which Natalie Portman’s wannabe prima ballerina has to hallucinate and stab herself with glass before reaching the pinnacle of her talent. From what I can gather, being a great artist must be a living nightmare.
Starry Eyes is only the latest thriller to take on this trope, and it is not one of the best. It tells the story of Sarah Walker, yet another ingenue who has rolled off the assembly line into Hollywood in the hopes of becoming a great actress. She is forced to work at a Hooters-esque purveyor of tater tots and other junk in order to pay her rent, and finds herself stuck spending all her time with her roommate’s petty, competitive friends--one of whom is another aspiring actress determined to use Sarah as her own personal punching bag. When Sarah finally secures an audition for the lead role in a horror film being produced by the mysterious Astraeus Pictures, she thinks it could truly be the moment that launches her out of her dead-end existence into a higher plane. However, after the creepy casting director’s non-reaction to her performance, she succumbs to a frightening, hair-pulling freak-out in the restroom. Turns out, this glimpse of insanity is exactly what Astraeus Pictures is looking for in their leading lady--and they’re going to push Sarah even farther down that dark, disturbing rabbit hole. Soon Sarah transforms from a beautiful, fresh-faced girl into a feral, blistered, monster--not exactly what one expects to happen on the pathway to becoming a star.
Fortunately, the actress playing Sarah is just that: a star. Reminiscent of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’s Rooney Mara in her striking looks as well as her sizable talent, Alex Essoe shines in the lead role even as she transforms into a monster and spirals down into hell. As one of a million desperate starlets trying to make it in Hollywood without succumbing to utter degradation, Essoe’s performance subtly hints at the darkness buried within Sarah--and anyone else hovering on the tightrope between success and madness--before it bursts out in full force. Even when Starry Eyes veers off the rails and becomes more silly and splattery than legitimately scary, she holds the audience’s attention. And veer off the rails it does: Starry Eyes starts out subtly creepy but soon grows heavy-handed, relying more on the cheap, simplistic horrors of blood and gore than anything truly haunting. One hopes that Essoe can use this movie as a launching pad to stardom without having to make a deal with the devil herself.
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES
The Blu-ray release of Starry Eyes includes a commentary track with writer-directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer and producer Travis Stevens, a music video, Essoe’s audition video, deleted scenes, a photo gallery and the film’s trailer.
"Starry Eyes" is on sale February 3, 2015 and is not rated. Horror. Directed by Dennis Widmyer, Kevin Kolsch. Written by Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer. Starring Amanda Fuller, Fabianne Therese.