United States. Directed by Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer, 2014. Starring Alexandra Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Noah Segan. 95 minutes.
Hollywood is the ultimate horror-movie town. It’s got a sinister history, is populated with low-lifes, creeps and weirdoes of every stripe, and is full to overflowing with metaphor. Already this year we’ve seen David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, which envisioned Hollywood as a ghost town. But there’s more than one way to skin a starlet, and Cronenberg’s influence is evident in Starry Eyes, which marries a classic tale of greed and ambition with the new “vaginal” style of body-horror à la Contracted and Thanatomorphose.
Alexandra Essoe stars as Sarah, who waits tables at a fictional Hooters-style T&A diner while plugging away at auditions and casting-calls. Opportunity comes calling in the form of a once-moribund horror studio who wants her to star in their latest project, Silver Scream. The catch is, she might have to suck the gnarly cock of Satan to get the role–and for once, that’s not a metaphor.
Written and directed by the team of Kevin Kolsh and Dennis Widmyer, Starry Eyes possesses a delightfully biting satirical sensibility. They haven’t got any particularly fresh ideas about how Hollywood chews up and spits out its promising young talent, but they couch what they do have in sharp wit and observation. While their sympathies clearly lie with Sarah’s peer group, a gaggle of indie hipster filmmakers (one of whom literally lives out of his car), nobody escapes the filmmakers’ rapier wit.
As such, Starry Eyes is more of an actor’s showcase than other films of such ilk, and it boasts numerous memorable performances. The character of Sarah is a bit on the bland side, but that goes with the territory, and Essoe’s fresh-faced, girl-next-door beauty makes up for it. But the supporting roles are where it’s at: Noah Segan (Deadgirl, Brick) as Danny, an indie auteur who wants Sarah for her passion project; Pat Healy (Compliance, Cheap Thrills) as Sarah’s boss at the diner; and Louis Dezseran, who steals the show with his clipped, genteel delivery as the sinister producer of Silver Scream.
Things go off the rails a bit in the film’s third act, where the film’s satire turns to horror and its moral dilemma becomes visceral. The metaphor becomes a bit too pointed, and Sarah undergoes a transformation that Essoe can’t quite pull off. The graphic violence, while well-done, seems a bit too gratuitous considering the overall context of the production. I’m not entirely sure how events follow each other in a couple of scenes. However, Kolsch and Widmyer’s self-consciously “retro” visual sense serves the film best during these late phases; my favorite scene, a procession of demon-worshipers performing a dark ritual in the Hollywood hills, generates both humor and unease in the best tradition of Rosemary’s Baby.
Bottom line, Starry Eyes is an entertaining Satanic show-biz satire marked by a pointed script, fine performances and memorable (if incongruous) gore.