Starry Eyes

| February 3, 2015

It’s been a while since we’ve had a really good, horrifying peek behind the curtain at the movie business in cinema. Maybe David Lynch’s last couple of features–Inland Empire and Mulholland Drive, both of which featured stories of deeply unpleasant things going on under the Hollywood sign–have intimidated a lot of horror filmmakers into looking for other avenues to explore. Fortunately, it did not deter writer/directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer from exploring the underworld of the movie business with Starry Eyes. This is one of the best horror films of 2014.

Sarah (Alexandra Essoe) is a young woman living in Los Angeles trying to break into movies while working part-time as a server at a Hooters-style restaurant. Her days are packed with endless, exhausting auditions, but she’s determined. She is called in for an audition for a horror film called The Silver Scream being produced by the mysterious Astraeus Pictures, and after failing the audition, Sarah hides out in a women’s restroom in the same building and punishes herself by painfully tearing out some of her hair. Her self-destructive display grabs the attention of one of the Astraeus representatives, who calls her back to the audition room for a much different and much more uncomfortable “audition.” Suddenly Sarah finds herself not only back in the running for the film’s lead, but a likely candidate. She’s called back for increasingly strange meetings with the people who run Astraeus, and finds herself being asked to do things she never would have imagined. How far will she have to go to be a star?

In a year with some spectacular performances in horror films, Alexandra Essoe’s turn as Sarah in Starry Eyes may only be second to Essie Davis’s in The Babadook. Sarah is a thoroughly developed character, one who goes from relatively naive at the start of the film to being discovering her darker impulses as her story progresses. The film requires her to go to some incredibly dark places, and Essoe handles these difficult scenes flawlessly. Her performance anchors the film, but the cast is great all around (especially Pat Healy as Sarah’s boss) and there is a lot to like here. Filmmakers Kolsch and Widmyer wisely give the audience just enough hints at a deep conspiracy pulling the strings of the star-making machine, and the film’s queasily effective practical effects are impressive. The film also features an excellent electronic score by Jonathan Snipes that perfectly complements the creepy happenings on screen. Horror fans looking for something unique should make it a priority to seek out Starry Eyes.

Dark Sky Films released Starry Eyes on DVD and Blu-ray 3 February 2015. Special features include a commentary with the film’s directors and producer Travis Stevens, deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes photo gallery, Alexandra Essoe’s audition tape, a Jonathan Snipes music video, and the film’s trailer.

About the Author:

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He is author of "The Unrepentant Cinephile," and a regular contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly as well as a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. He is co-director of the Chicago Cinema Society and proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's "Guru, the Mad Monk." Follow his long-form film writing on Medium: www.medium.com/@rabbitroom
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