DIRECTED BY: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer
FEATURING: Alexandra Essoe, Lou Deszeran
PLOT: A struggling young L.A. actress finally gets a callback, but the auditions are increasingly humiliating, and the casting director wears a pentagram…
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s got a little bit of backloaded weirdness in its final act, but mostly, it’s just a clever but minor indie horror whose primary impact will be as a calling card for lead actress Alexandra Essoe.
COMMENTS: Starry Eyes‘ script was obviously written by people who have stood up and read lines from an unfamiliar script in an attempt to impress poker-faced executives who silently assess their appearance, talent and general suitability as a human being. The movie makes auditioning feel (at times literally) nightmarish. Starry Eyes really makes you feel Sarah’s objectification as a struggling L.A. actress, and not only in the obvious ways. In fact, her daytime stint in hot pants and cutoff t-shirt at “Big Taters Family Restaurant” is less humiliating than the auditions she attends. The “Big Taters” subplot is interesting, because breastaurant waitressing is presented as a more honest and, in a way, honorable line of work than acting; her boss may ogle her, but he actually gives her good advice, whereas the casting agents are arrogant procurers who shamelessly leverage her starlet ambitions. Food service just wants her for body, but the movie industry wants her soul.
Astraeus Pictures not only makes B-movies, but they are staffed entirely by renegades from a low budget horror set. The bow-tied assistant casting director is fey and over-enunciates; his female superior is severe and androgynous, like a patrician riding instructor or a warden at a women’s prison. The producer himself has the studied smile, raised eyebrows and smarmy positivity of an overeager motivational speaker, or a hammy horror movie villain. Essoe’s performance, by contrast, is totally naturalistic, and extremely intense when anxiety attacks make her tear the hair out of her head in bloody clumps. The campiness of the moguls’ portrayals is a deliberate attempt to make them seem strange and artificial (and even hypocritical, since they demand authenticity from the auditionees they torment).
Sill, reasonable aesthetic choice though it may be, I think the hammy performances from the Hollywood phonies are a bit overplayed. The other major detractor from a generally solid horror outing is the weak second act, where Sarah spends too much time hanging out with her indie filmmaking friends. These digressions set up a necessary contrast between the creative freedom of the poor artsy types and the corporate bondage offered by Astraeus, but they don’t do favors for the pacing. Fortunately, the final act takes a turn into Cronenbergian body horror, as Sarah transforms from a nobody wannabe into one of Hollywood’s merciless bloodthirsty elites. “Dreams require sacrifice,” taunts the producer. The idea of selling your soul for a starring role isn’t a new or original one, but Starry Eyes is effective because it’s made by people who understand the agony and temptation of the quest for stardom from the inside.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: