Starry-EyesThe beautiful young woman who goes to Hollywood and sells her soul for fame and fortune as an actress is a familiar allegory, but seldom has it been spun in quite as chilling a manner as seen in the new horror flick, Starry Eyes. Even more rare is to see a unknown in the lead role turn in such a remarkable, defining performance that she elevates the movie above mere Midnight Madness fun. Alex Essoe as Sarah Walker, the would-be thespian who discovers how far she is willing to go for success, is astonishing; it’s sweet justice of a sort for a newcomer to use such a role to establish her own claim to stardom. The directing/screenwriting team of Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer wisely piggyback on Essoe’s achievement to bring a fully realized story to the screen.

When we first see Sarah, any notion of a Hollywood dream is as obscure as the mountains outside of LA on a smog-filled day. She is a Big Tater girl, a sort of Hooters waitress for the kiddie crowd. Her spare time is spent obsessing over her weight and seeking auditions that are as ritually humiliating as her shifts at the fast food restaurant. Sarah has a roommate (Amanda Fuller), at least one frenemy (a terrific Fabianne Therese), and a couple of dopey male friends, one of whom is going to make his own movie and may have a part for Sarah. In the meantime, she’s behind on the rent and plagued by nightmares in which the lines disappear from the script she’s trying to read. What’s a poor girl to do except pull out her hair, which is exactly what Sarah does by the fistful when facing unresolvable frustration. One such fit of self-destruction takes place in a public bathroom and earns her a callback for a part in a horror film with the working title of The Silver Scream.

It turns out that Sarah is a method actor and when she recreates her self-mutilation in front of the casting agents, she seems a sure bet for the lead, sure enough, at least, for her to quit her day job. One last interview awaits, with the producer for the film (Louis Dezseran in a oh-so-slimy performance that will have you wanting to take a shower after watching his scenes). Naturally, the producer offers Sarah the part in exchange for her working over his boy parts. Sarah flees, reconsiders, and then learns the long, hard way the cardinal rule for young actresses: spit, don’t swallow. Starry Eyes, which resembles Black Swan at the beginning, becomes a venereal horror flick at that point, reminiscent of last year’s underrated Contracted, as Sarah begins a transformation of body and mind.

And a new Sarah is going to need new friends and that does not bode well for the old ones. Kolsch and Widmyer unleash a fair amount of good, old-fashioned third-feature-at-the-drive-in-on-a-Friday-night violence that may prove too much for some viewers who have been lulled in to a seemingly safe psychosexual drama cocoon. The genius of the directing-screenwriting duo in this instance is that they don’t stop with the violence, but go forward with the transformation. The ending is stunning. We see Sarah as the star; the metaphor is completed.

Three stars.

 

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