"In the dreams of the starlet there is always that one scene where the cigar-chomping producer spots a lovely young woman in the Carlton Terrace and shouts 'who is that girl? I must have her for my next picture.'" Words once said by the late-great film critic Roger Ebert. The new body-horror film Starry Eyes plays as the bizarro alternate nightmare take on that dream scenario.
Sarah (Alexandra Essoe) is a promising young actress who dreams of fast tracking her career to stardom. She aspires to have her name etched in immortality among the legends of Hollywood. However, she doesn't have much going on in her current station in life. Frustrated, she takes out one lousy low-rent audition after another with little success. Until one day, she stumbles upon one audition that will forever change her life.
She takes out an audition for a crummily titled horror movie called "The Silver Scream" produced by a once-famed now crumbled horror movie production company. Sarah leaves enough of an impression on the casting agents and receives a callback. But all is not what it seems as she eventually shares the room with a cigar-chomping veteran producer who oozes the creep factor.
Despite her few good qualities, it is abundantly clear from the offset that all is not right with Sarah. Stuck in a dead-end waitressing gig at a mum and pop version of Hooters and living in a no thrills apartment on the outskirts of Hollywood. She looks down on her day-to-day job with scorn while contending with her 70's porn star mustache-sporting boss (Pat Healy) and his occasional leeriness. Meanwhile, her friends, a small contingent of fellow wannabe actors and filmmakers, are a bunch of dead-end no-hopers who only remind her of her failures. She snidely takes a measure of joy at their failures as if it were a reminder that she isn't the lowliest creature in the pack.
Her only escape from this day-to-day reminder of failure is a bedroom mirror plastered with various images of Hollywood greats as she fancily dreams of her name adorning a marquee someday. Her obsession with stardom eats away at the remaining portions of her humanity. Thus begins her slippery descent into madness as she soon finds herself the subject of a bizarre cult who promises her stardom at the cost of her soul.
Despite a strong performance from first-timer Alexandra Essoe, unfortunately, the screenplay leaves her with little in the way of an arc as she is mostly emotionally unpenetrable from the get-go. Her obsessive and almost compulsively destructive behaviour shines through in the aftermath of her very first audition where she sinks into a bathroom stall and proceeds to rip clumps of her hair out. Long before her encounters with the occult, she is without question a woman who has already been ravaged and tormented by the fabled promised dreams of tinsel town.
So when she finally does "let go" and physically transforms into the monster that she always has been on the inside, it's a tad underwhelming if not heavy handed in its symbolism. If not a bit low-rent Black Swan. Subtlety is far from being the film's high point and its a problem that plagues Starry Eyes throughout its brisk 90 minute run time.
Thus, the beats of the screenplay are all too recognisable as the film plays it deck of cards in the most obvious of manner. Eventually, Sarah's inner beast is exposed, and as the movie jumps into its occasionally impressive gory finale, it all winds up feeling as if it is going through the motions. Surprisingly enough, the film works best in its mundane moments of observing Sarah interact with the supporting cast.
Still, Starry Eyes is not without its charms. First-time directors Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch do well to paint Hollywood for being the sun-soaked encapsulation of broken dreams that it truly is. The filmmakers do well creating an overtly oppressive and gloomy mood. They also do well in taking their time to let the story and its characters (namely the supporting cast) breathe. Unlike most horror films, Starry Eyes has a certain fondness for its characters that can't help but be admired. But the heavy-handed storytelling is a detriment for which the film occasionally fails to overcome.