Constant gear shifting makes the pacing feel uneven and the underlying message disjointed despite the intriguing premise.
There are some people out there who are willing to do just about anything for stardom: move to Hollywood, work dead-end jobs, endure endless auditions, and even sleep with those in power. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? That’s because it’s the foundation of many stories about chasing the American dream in cinema. And that’s precisely what filmmakers Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer attempt to examine with their latest film Starry Eyes. Or at least that’s where they start. Constant gear shifting makes the pacing feel uneven and the underlying message disjointed despite the intriguing premise.
Sarah (Alexandra Essoe) is an aspiring young actress who is trying to make it big in Hollywood. When she isn’t waiting tables at Big Taters (take a guess at which skimpy wing chain it’s imitating), Sarah auditions for any kind of role she can find. After many failed attempts at landing a gig she finally receives a call-back. Although the lead role in a horror film called The Silent Scream from a declining production company may not be the most glamorous role, she figures beggars can’t be choosers.
The story starts out as a psychological thriller when Sarah’s mental state is in question after multiple breakdowns, but it quickly transitions into psychological terror. During her second audition for the lead part the director demands Sarah to disrobe, something that the original role description never mentioned. Leery at first, Sarah eventually complies in hopes that it proves her dedication to the role. However, this only affords her another round of auditions and this time the stakes grow even higher. Sarah is offered the part as long as she performs a sexual favor for the sleazy producer, forcing her to consider how much she really wants this role. The film would have been better off keeping the focus on this difficult moral dilemma and show the repercussions of selling out. Instead the film spirals off into various directions using the “kitchen sink approach” that generates little impact.
Using a foggy and dreary Los Angeles backdrop, Starry Eyes paints a grim picture of Hollywood and the people who live there. Sarah surrounds herself with the sort of pretentious industry people you always hear about, the kind only concerned about how others can help their careers. Every authoritative figure she crosses is masochistic towards women and takes advantage of her willingness to do whatever it takes to make it in the business. Although this is an exaggerated portrait of the Hollywood system, one can’t help but wonder if there’s at least some truth to it.
It wouldn’t be surprising if horror fans get a little restless halfway through Starry Eyes as a lot of time is dedicated to character development and exposition — perhaps too much time, something not found very often in horror films. But the film more than makes up for it in its final bloody act when shit hits the fan. There’s a sense of overcompensation clearly aimed to please fans of the genre with a sudden abundance of throats slits, nudity, and blood splatter.
Despite a breakout performance from Alexandra Essoe and an excellent pulsating soundtrack, Starry Eyes is mostly a disappointment. What begins as a focused study of how some sell their soul to make it in Hollywood, eventually becomes a broad examination of Los Angeles stereotypes. Neither are particularly original topics, but a narrow scope could have prevented the film from feeling so scattered. Starry Eyes starts off as though it may have something to say about the dark side of fame, but by venturing off into the revenge-slasher arena it proves it has less to say on the subject than originally thought.