Sarah (Essoe) resides in LA, the sunshiny place of dreams and superficiality and is an actress, or at least wants to be one; is resolute to be one yet throughout Starry Eyes the line between determination, desperation and ultimate destruction is crossed, blurred, eventually rubbed out – and bloodied – altogether. Sarah tirelessly auditions for role after role in between working at fast-food restaurant Big Taters for sleazy, loser-ly manager Carl (a moustachioed Pat Healy). She has friends, none of whom are particularly close except maybe her roommate Tracy (Amanda Fuller). There is Danny (Noah Segan) who lives out of his mini-van and is ‘determined’ to make it as a director and Erin (Fabianne Therese) a wannabe actress who has had minor success and relishes in being well, a bit of a “bitch”.
Gamine in appearance, Sarah has ‘issues’, she suffers from nightmares, self-harms and is extremely body-conscious. She teeters on the precipice of insanity, is emotionally raw and literally tears her hair out at the roots to ease her anxiety. Her vulnerability does not necessarily make her weak but her hunger to be somebody does, it is easy to empathise with her – that yearning; she could be your sister, or daughter. Hell, she could even be you. Desires, primal or otherwise, push people in all kinds of directions. Then comes the call-back from a successful, if odd, audition for an Astraeus feature (the company taking its name from the Titan God of dusk, creator of winds and wandering stars) and the casting directors’ insistence that she lose her inhibitions has surprising results on the leading lady – “If you can’t ever let go, how can you fully transform into something else?”
Starry Eyes is Faustian in nature, a satirical, abject, allegory about the grim underbelly of Hollywood and the true price of fame (there is even a sly swipe at Scientology too). It is emotive in its execution and (bloody) ambition. An almost melodramatic beginning gives way to a glorious and stomach-churning body horror; Matt Falletta and Hugo Villasenor’s practical make-up effects are visceral, disturbing and quite disgusting, in the best possible way, and displayed amid a synth-heavy musical score which sets the mood perfectly. Alexandra Essoe is astonishing as Sarah, she even at the most grim and a gruesome moment, manages to humanise the character and create a filmic-female that breaks the boundaries of the horror genre’s ‘monstrous feminine’.
There is a moment when ‘The Producer’ (Louis Dezeran) refers to the film industry as a plague; a festering pestilence: “hollow be thy name, shallow be thy name.” – Thankfully, Kevin Krolsch and Dennis Widmyer’s unsettling cautionary tale is anything but.