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Let’s hope that Alex Essoe went through a less arduous audition process for Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer‘s horror film Starry Eyes than did her character. Playing a perpetually unemployed actress who makes a deal with the devil to procure a “gateway part” in an upcoming film, Essoe delivers a physically and emotionally demanding performance that serves as a wicked illustration of the lengths that desperate actors will endure for stardom.
When first seen, the gorgeous twentysomething Sarah (Esso) is working a menial job as a scantily clad waitress at a Hooters-like restaurant where’s she forever being ogled by her leering boss (a suitably slimy Pat Healy). So she eagerly submits her head shot and resume to the mysterious Astraeus Pictures for the starring role in their upcoming opus The Silver Scream.
The night before she has a nightmare of a literally bloody audition, and the real one doesn’t go much better, with the stone-faced casting director (Maria Olsen) and her equally creepy, bowtie-wearing cohort (Marc Senter) delivering the response that strikes dejection in heart of aspiring performers everywhere: “We’ll be in touch.”
The clearly emotionally troubled Sarah doesn’t take it at all well, retreating to the bathroom where she has a primal fit that includes actually tearing out her hair. The spectacle is witnessed by the casting director, who calls her back in for another tryout. “Maybe we didn’t see all we needed from you after all,” she declares. Things go much better the second time around, with Sarah entering into a sort of primal seizure more indicative of a need for institutionalization than talent. Yet another callback finds her being asked to strip off all her clothes despite the fact that the part doesn’t call for nudity.
Her cooperation leads to a meeting where she’s introduced to the company’s elderly production head (Louis Dezseran) who makes it clear that the starring role in the film he describes as “a love letter to this town” is hers as long as she performs certain, um, favors. The horrified Sarah quickly flees, only to change her mind days later when she seals the deal in a nightmarish scene that recalls Rosemary’s Baby.
Rather than exulting in her triumph, Sarah begins deteriorating both mentally and physically, assaulting her restaurant boss and alienating her equally struggling aspiring artist friends. Her spiraling decline, which includes vomiting up maggots, eventually finds her transforming her into a zombie-like creature who begins exacting murderous retribution that tests the limits of the film’s gory make-up effects.
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The degeneration into familiar genre tropes reduces the impact of the wittily satirical set-up, with the result that Starry Eyes fails to live up to its initial promise. But the film indicates genuine talent on the part of its directors/screenwriters, who infuse the proceedings with a dark, gothic creepiness that is further enhanced by Jonathan Snipes‘ retro, synthesizer-infused score reminiscent of John Carpenter.
Production: Snowfort Pictures, Parallactic Pictures, Title Media In association with Dark Sky Films
Cast: Alex Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Noah Segan, Fabianne Therese, Shane Coffey, Natalie Castillo, Pat Healy, Nick Simmons, Maria Olsen, Marc Senter, Louis Dezseram
Directors/screenwriters: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer
Producer: Travis Tevens
Executive producers: Malik Ali, Badie Ali, Hamza Ali, Greg Newman, Giles Daoust, John Jarzemsky, Aaron B. Koontz, Gina Wilbur
Director of photography: Adam Bricker
Production designer: Melissa Jusufi
Editors: Brody Gusar, Dennis Widmyer
Costume designer: Malia Miyashiro
Composer: Jonathan Snipes
Casting: Cleo Valente
No rating, 98 min.
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