Starry Eyes (2014)
★ / ★★★★
Astraeus Pictures is holding an audition for their latest film called “The Silver Scream.” Sarah (Alex Essoe), an aspiring actress who waitresses during her day job, hopes to snag the lead role and so she attends the casting. The audition does not go well, but when one of the casting directors (Maria Olsen) catches her throwing a fit in a nearby restroom, Sarah is invited back to the room and is asked to repeat her tantrum. She does so, reluctantly, and becomes the frontrunner for lead actress.
Written and directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, “Starry Eyes” establishes a somewhat entertaining story about a woman who is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve her dreams of Hollywood but it loses its way about halfway through. Eventually, not one person is worth rooting for and we are saturated with violence. Notice that the violence is more gruesome when the target is a woman.
It has a taste for the bizarre. The first third almost feels Lynch-ian in that the camera commands a level of obtuse magnetism when something weird is going on. The protagonist has a habit of punishing herself when things do not go her way or as she had expected. The framing during those moments is very tight; we are seeing what we are not supposed to be seeing which makes the material compelling. Why is this woman the way she is and will her proclivity for self-punishment get her to the top?
The picture is not very good at answering questions. Abstraeus Pictures is not what it appears to be but the script provides no background as to who the members are and what they hope to achieve in the long run. Instead, a lot of distraction is provided—like Sarah’s inner and outer transformation. While the makeup is quite impressive, especially during the scene when her finger nails are coming off, the visual disgust does not propel the story forward. It is a static horror film.
It can be argued that horror films have an innate appeal because they are almost always about good versus evil. Here, although supporting characters are introduced, including Sarah’s friends, not one of them is special or worth getting to know further. At times they are not even likable. They are nice to Sarah’s face but when her back is turned, gossip spreads like wildfire. We are not given a good reason why Sarah continues to be around them.
“Starry Eyes” shows potential in the beginning but ends up being a flat horror film. One of the problems is its failure to embrace the extreme or several extremes. I wished that the filmmakers had taken inspiration from David Cronenberg’s early career and really went for it. Because if neither the dialogue nor its story is a forté then everything else should be heightened to try to make up for what is lacking.