Review: Starry Eyes (2014)

Horror and drama combine to bring the story of a Hollywood actress to life

Starry Eyes is a 2014 horror film written and directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer. The film premiered last year at the South by Southwest film festival and stars Alex Essoe.

Essoe plays the role of Sarah Walker, a struggling Hollywood actress who dreams of starring on the silver screen, but her tiresome job as a waitress, unsympathetic friends and problems with her own self-confidence burden her as she searches for roles and auditions. When she is suddenly in contention for the lead in a film at one of the major studios in town, she discovers the secrets behind the stars. Sarah is forced to decide whether to continue as a struggling unknown, or to subject herself to the star-making process with sickening and deadly consequences.

As a horror film, Starry Eyes both shocks and sickens. Easily one the more gruesome films of the past year, it delivers gore without relying on CGI and in such an explicit way that early pioneers of splatter films would be proud. Still, with excellent story structure and direction from Kolsch and Widmyer, the film is not overwhelmed by its more graphic moments, and instead offers a unique story with complex characters and a feeling of overall genuine humanness even when it stretches away from reality.

While the elements of horror satisfy what the audience came for, the film’s greatest success is rather in both its depiction of Hollywood and satyrical representation of the stardom narrative. Just as easily as it fits in with classic horror films, Starry Eyes also functions as a response to Hollywood’s self representation such as in films like All About Eve or A Star is Born. Actors and actresses have flocked to Los Angeles since the early days of film in the hope of being discovered on the street, in a restaurant, or in that fateful casting call. Starry Eyes offers a refreshingly honest take on the story by suggesting, albeit through stylised horror, that it is not so simple.

Essoe gave a career-altering performance in the role of Sarah, which was both psychologically and physically demanding. With barely a moment to catch her breath, Essoe gave her all and it shows. After the Hollywood premiere at Grauman’s Egyptian Theater, Kolsch and Widmyer described their fears hiring an actress with such little experience, but then recounted their first day on set when Essoe floored it and brought her A-game against some of the more seasoned actors alongside her. The rest of the cast did a good job fulfilling stereotyped versions of Hollywood entertainers from idle young artists, to rude and desensitised studio executives. In retrospect, however, some of the violent moments in the film, which can be thoroughly enjoyed for the sake of gruesome entertainment, might have been more valuable to the story had the audience cared more for the other characters.

Overall, Starry Eyes is a must see. It was definitely one of my more enjoyable trips to theatres last year, and was equally as thrilling to watch again for this review.

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