The life of a struggling actor cannot be fun. You spend countless hours preparing for auditions that last all of 60 seconds, not to mention all the time in between you utilize hunting for decent open calls or working out to stay camera-ready. All this when there are thousands of men and women just like you maintaining the same exact regime.
Perhaps it’s no wonder that Starry Eyes was crowd funded through Kickstarter. Considering the amount of hopeful screen stars out there, this is a horror film with a very understandable hook.
It’s also quite good.
Quick Plot: Sarah is a struggling actress trying her best to land a film role. In between unsuccessful soul-sucking auditions, she makes a living at a sad little Hooters knock-off burger joint (run by indie horror film uncle Pat Healy) and makes some misery tolerating her awful neighbors (all like-minded Hollywood wannabes) in a Melrose Place-like apartment complex. Even with indie horror champs Amanda Fuller (Red White & Blue) and Noah Segan (Cabin Fever 2, Deadgirl, everything else) in the mix, these are pretty terrible people.
As per her usual day, Sarah attends an open audition for the lead role in a new horror film made by the fictional, thinly veiled Hammer Studio Astraeus Pictures.
Angry at herself for a mediocre performance, Sarah escapes to the bathroom where she does a sort of self-abuse ritual, screaming and yanking out her hair with disciplined pain. Oddly enough, such antics are exactly what the casting agents (among them another RW&B alumnus, Marc Senter) are looking for in their ingenue.
Callbacks ensue, and it doesn't take too many flashes of pentagram necklaces to tell us that Astraeus Pictures is probably far more evil than Paramount.
Written and directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, Starry Eyes is a strong one-woman show with the wonderful Alexandra Essoe turning in a fantastic performance. Sarah isn't the most lovable of leading ladies, but that ultimately works in the favor of Starry Eyes. It's far more interesting, in 2015, to center your film on an active and determined woman over a passively innocent final girl.
In some ways, Starry Eyes calls to mind Ti West's The House of the Devil. Both films keep the entire focus on an unlucky brunette finding herself in collusion with a satanic cult (as so happens to us brunettes) and both follow an unusually slow pace towards a pretty intense conclusion.
Also, I really dig both.
There's something genuinely fresh about Starry Eyes. Like a few recent indie horror films (Contracted and Alyce Kills come to mind), this is a film unafraid to let its female lead make unhealthy and selfish decisions. It’s clear to us (and Sarah) that Astraeus Pictures is an evil entity but you know...they’re offering her a key gateway part into the Hollywood Machine. Starry Eyes justifies Sarah's questionable choices even when we as the audience wince as she makes them.
It culminates in an incredibly violent and unsettling finale well worth the somewhat slow build. Best of all, the moral ambiguity may lead to different conclusions over whether Starry Nights has a happy or unfortunate ending. Either way, it’s a superb ride.
Essoe really does serve as the film's ace, but there's also some excellent tone-setting done by the musical score, which puts a simple but effective theme to outstanding use
I suppose I could be irked by feeling as though the movie ends just at the point where most would want to see follow-through, but there's also something incredibly satisfying about Starry Eyes stopping where it does
With the right buns, you don’t need pockets
Van mattresses are surprisingly comfortable
Burial does wonders for the complexion
I found Starry Eyes to be an incredibly interesting little horror film, though I'm sure there are those out there that will be annoyed by its slow pace and 'unlikable' heroine. It's not a perfect effort, but it definitely pulls together the right elements--strong lead performance, fun genre cameos, effective musical score, visceral violence--to serve as a pretty darn impacting 100 minutes of Netflix streaming. Give it a go.