Sunday, April 12, 2015

Starry Eyes (2014)

Directors: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer
Writers:    Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer
Cast:         Alex Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Noah Segan

A hopeful young starlet uncovers the ominous origins of the Hollywood elite and enters into a deadly agreement in exchange for fame and fortune. Sarah (Alex Essoe) is a struggling actor who works in a hooters like food chain to pay her bills. She gets shortlisted for an audition in an Astraeus Pictures production. The audition doesn't go well and she throws a hissy fit, involving pulling her hairs out,  in the rest room which one of the Casting director inadvertently hears. She is asked to replicate that again during the audition and she is selected for the next round. She flies through the second round of audition and is invited to meet the old producer for the third round. He informs her that what they are planning with 'Silver Scream' is to portray the people like her in Hollywood itself , who are ambitious and are doers prepared to make sacrifices. This is like a meta-sequence with the producer describing what 'Starry Eyes' is all about. Things get complicated as he makes sexual advances against her, telling her that she is at the gateway and she just need to open the gates to transform her life into one of fame and fortune. Meanwhile all this, we also get a glimpse of her life in LA surrounded by friends of her roommate whom she can't stand and thinks stand in her way. They are also involved in the sacrifice that the producer is talking about.

The film starts very much in David Lynchesque fashion, then becomes a David Cronenbergesque body horror and finally into slasher horror category. Horror films works for me only when it is made in a way that you can really relate to what the character is going through and Starry Eyes does that without relying on cheap jump scare tactics. Being a struggling actor in Hollywood comes with the prospect of facing numerous rejections as you go through audition after audition. She is not handling this well and this is exactly what attracts  the producer in the first place as he suspects that she is prepared to do anything for the role. The transformation she is supposed to make requires her to do shed any humane qualities in her and all of this is a metaphorical allusion to people who are successful in the Hollywood hellhole. To be fair, you can say the same about 'successful' people from many other lines of work and in that sense almost all can connect to this film. Success mostly comes after selling your soul to the devil and question for many becomes whether you are prepared to do so. We all can look at the managers we had in various jobs to see people just like that. Film will remind you of Lynch's 'Mulholland Drive' and Cronenberg's 'Maps to the stars', both of which were Hollywood stories, and may even see Starry Eyes as a sort of prequel to both. After a very stunning first two thirds of the film, I feared that it will peter out towards the end as it became a slasher film, but the ending surprised me again as the directors didn't resort to 'it is all in the head' routine. That can work only when you are sympathetic to the character and in this film she is portrayed in a somewhat negative light from the beginning. I really liked that they went all way in with the 'castigating Hollywood' routine.

Overall it is a great watch, even without taking the budgetary constraints into consideration. It was made on a meager $50K budget and was partly funded through Kickstarter. I didn't notice the soundtrack that much- in a good way- till the end credits rolled, set to retro music and in cool red fonts,  which I sat through and that is always a good thing. The makeups looked convincing and  the slasher part of the film was especially hard to watch and blanket was very close to my eyes. Pulling nails out always gets me. It is probably the best horror film I have seen from recent times and I consider 'The Babadook' as more of a psychological thriller rather than horror. The name of the fictional production company, Astraeus, is the name of the God of Stars in Greek mythology.

Rating: 4/5