Thursday, August 25, 2016

In short: Starry Eyes (2014)

Like so many young women in Hollywood, Sarah (Alex Essoe) has the dream of becoming not just a working actress but a very traditional star. All that dream has brought her so far are bunch of failed auditions, a humiliating job as a waitress in a themed fast food restaurant, a bunch of friends of dubious quality, and the habit to reduce her stress levels by angrily pulling her own hair out.

Things – and not just things – are certainly going to change for her when she has a breakdown (with hair-pulling, screaming, the works) after a particularly humiliating audition for a horror movie with the puntastic title of “The Silver Scream”. Witnessing this the casting director (Maria Olsen) at once warms to her, inviting her to another session of doing exactly the same in front of her and her assistant. They’re well pleased with Sarah’s following performance/live breakdown. In the following weeks, there are further sessions of appropriately sadistic vigour, all in the name of helping Sarah transform herself completely (which you may want to take very literally). Why, one might even think these people belong to some kind of occult society with sinister goals! All the while, Sarah’s life – inward and outward – unravels around her.

Kevin Kolsch’s (or Kölsch – IMDB and credits don’t agree) and Dennis Widmyer’s Starry Eyes is quite the thing, applying choice occult horror tropes to the small yet fine Hollywood horror story sub-genre (or perhaps the other way around) in consequent and increasingly bloody (and pus-sy etc) ways.

This is a film about the will to success taken to its most horrid extremes, a film that views character traits and concepts US cinema very often praises to high heavens as a particularly insidious road to self-destruction. Self-destruction of this type, the film argues, is in one form or the other generally approved of or even expected from actresses trying for a breakthrough that will most probably never come. Being a horror film, Starry Eyes does take the whole self-destruction/total transformation business very literally, not accidentally hitting the core of desperation lying under the idea of turning oneself into a star until it oozes blood and gore.

The whole thing is grounded by Alex Essoe’s terrific performance as Sarah, a full-body tour de force that is as uncomfortable to watch as it should be, including moments of horrible frailty, putting things on display that’ll make you squirm – particularly since the performance has a terrible sense of honesty about it.

Obviously, Starry Eyes is not a terribly easy film to watch – not because it is a bad film, but rather because it is so effective at making the audience look at exactly the things it really doesn’t want to see; it’s brilliant and exhausting.

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