[This review was originally posted March 9, 2014 during our SXSW coverage. We dusted off to re-post in time for its official release]
There’s something pitch black, oily and gross flowing through the veins of Starry Eyes. It betrays the optimism evoked by the title and it trickles out through the pores of this impressive and sinister feature about deleterious ambition from directors Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch. This lifeblood is paramount to Starry Eyes’ success. It makes this angry indie effort about Hollywood a truthful, grotesque and flat-out disturbing body horror piece.
Juggling both that aforementioned ambition and the film’s grotesque nature is Alexandra Essoe who turns in finely-tuned performance as the anxious and slightly unhinged Sarah. Like so many living in Los Angeles, Sarah is an aspiring actress seeking fame. She spends her days working at a restaurant (Pat Healy makes a fun appearance as the establishment’s manager) while waiting for the next audition to come along. She’s got a core group of friends, all representing various walks of Hollywood life – from her supportive roommate to the insecure friend also forging her way in the world of acting to the young director (Noah Segan) channeling his art through independent means. This canvas of characters stuck in career limbo is a pretty spot-on portrait of, as the film says, people who talk about doing something instead of actually doing it.
It doesn’t really matter if Sarah is talented or not (from what we can tell, she is), what Widmyer and Kolsch focus on is Sarah’s psyche and the lengths she is willing to go to get the big part. She’s fragile and she’s pulling her hair out to get a break in the biz…literally – perhaps a developed side effect of the frustrations she feels from rejection in the industry. This “fit” she throws captures the eye of two talent scouts during an audition for Astraeus Pictures, a company at work on a horror film called The Silver Scream. Sarah gets her foot in the door there, but after meeting the film’s producer she has to decide just how bad she wants the part.
Starry Eyes is certainly an engaging and eerie story of risk, sacrifice and transformation. It’s an unsettling examination of whether you’re open to selling your soul to sell out. And when Sarah makes her choice, it’s then that Starry Eyes lays bare its black heart and we witness the corrosive side of high ambitions in the film industry. The film becomes a smart and sly indictment against Hollywood for the murder of independent cinema that’s masked in a Rosemary’s Baby-esque tale.
It’s interesting because in some ways, this film is a nice companion piece to last year’s Contracted. They tread some similar ground but utilize entirely different set-ups and pay-offs. Perhaps if one more director chimed in with his/her own piece, we could have a “downside of L.A. lifestyle” film trilogy on our hands.
Kudos to Widmyer and Kolsch for Starry Eyes, a strong indie film with good performances, some startling/disgusting imagery and a fantastic score to back it all up.