We cannot come up with an accurate count of how many times the particular theme in a movie; a young woman comes to the big city. The proverbial stars in her eyes convinced that she will soon achieve a lifelong goal of fame and fortune. She wants to be a star. She is certain. She has not only the talent, but to drive and conviction to make it happen by sheer willpower. Common expression almost inevitably found, at one point or another, in the dialogue of these films is the phrase "I’d kill for that opportunity." Of course, is somewhat sane person would readily understand that such a post or threat as it was, was hyperbole and not a statement of premeditated intent. The movie, ‘Starry Eyes’, sets out to place a darker, more sinister spin of the familiar tale of a young woman cock ring all obstacles on her quest to make it big. After several short films together, this movie is the first feature-length offering the writing/directing team of Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer. Right up front, I feel compelled to note that this film is much better than you may have anticipated, after reading the marketing department’s press release synopsis. I have often mentioned in consideration such as this, that I have been a fan of horror movies ever since I could reach the box office window to purchase a ticket. Having grown up on the traditional Universal Studios creature features in the ready dark humor of 70s slasher films, I have watched with great dismay as this genre spiraled into infamy by embracing torture porn is not only a methodology but as a raison d'etre for making the story. Movies of this type can be made that the relatively low-budget an exceptionally quickly, making them ideal the burgeoning filmmaker. Thankfully, I have seen a turnaround in the themes and braced by nascent Masters of horror, a return to psychologically-based horror.
When we first meet our protagonist, Sarah (Alex Essoe), she’s standing in her underwear hearing at her image in the full-length mirror. It is obvious from her face that she is not pleased with the results of her critical self-appraisal. Although Sarah is an attractive woman by any standards, she manages to pinch a little flesh at the waist and is close to tears as she checks out a reflection. Sarah has one goal in life and that is to be a star. But like millions of young women, she objectifies herself by comparing her body to the perfectly chiseled and expertly airbrushed images in film and magazines. To her credit, she is not formed into the delusion that a pretty face and figure is sufficient to achieve fame. Sarah supports herself working in one of those burger and beer places with a predominantly male clientele is more interested in studying the waitresses in skintight outfits the new cuisine described in the menu. Upon finishing her shift, Sarah takes the subway for acting classes. She practices her emotional expressions nearly every time a mirror happens to be conveniently placed. There are immediately given the strong impression of the strong woman as a person who is sufficiently grounded to realize a chosen vocation requires arduous work and diligence. Fortunately, her boss, Carl (Pat Healy), maybe irked by our classes and auditions interfere with the work schedule that he remains reluctant to fire her.
The people closest to her might be considered of friends the use of that term is largely a default the lack of a more accurate description. The pool of young people closest to her consist of people in the same situation as Sarah; aspiring actors. They are bound together by this simple interest, but that also forces the competition that prevents any true friendships from forming. A prime example of this is found in Erin (Fabianne Therese), a frienemy driven solely by self-serving interests who experiences no consternation in undermining Sarah and outright stealing potential roles from her. The others in the group are so concerned with their own careers that there is no motivation to intervene in the unfair advantage Erin is constantly taking. Fortunately, Sarah does have a couple of people in her life who truly care about her; her roommate, Tracy (Amanda Fuller), an aspiring photographer and their friend, Danny (Noah Segan), whose ambitions lie behind the camera as a director.
Sara notices potential project that could get her some real experience. Response to a casting call for movie entitled ‘Silver Scream’ being produced by Astraeus Pictures. A little item of trivia might be appropriate here, Astraeus, was a Titan god in Greek mythology, who ruled the stars and planets. She meets with the casting director ((Maria Olsen) and her assistant (Marc Senter), who have little in the way of response to Sarah’s mediocre reading. Embarrassed than emotionally devastated, Sarah goes to the bathroom and begins to excessively pull out her own hair. When this is witnessed by the casting director, she seems to be intrigued by Sarah self-destructive behavior. This does being Sarah a second chance at the audition and a klaxon should have sounded in wanting when they requested that she continue harming herself. The potential for an iota of success blinds, Sarah as to just how creepy situation is. Even when she is called back and Sarah is told to this role, and despite initial hesitation, those acquiesced to the demand. Another short by warning sign, she is encouraged to free herself to ‘transform’. She also doesn’t seem perturbed by another sign blatantly given to the audience that the casting director is prominently raring a pentagram.
In the wake of a non-customary flow of exuberance, Sarah summarily quits her job at ‘Big Taters’ but the audience is shown a darkness begin to infuse itself into Sarah. A behavior becomes inconsistent to such extremes that she breaks up the nose of wonderful friends. Upon receiving a third call back of the role Sarah does begin to be bothered by the growing trepidation she is experiencing regarding some of the demands made upon her. During this latest audition. She is informed the next requirement is to have sex with the producer (Louis Dezseran). Taken aback by such a salacious demand she refuses, quickly running back home. Sarah cost down to some degree. After talking things over with Tracy, she calms down sufficiently to go back to Carl and ask for her old job back, ultimately showing up at the produces home acquiescing to his demand by performing oral sex on him. And all this time, Sarah’s behavior continues to deteriorate becoming increasingly erratic.
What little I knew about this movie, I went into it with some expectations. I thought it was going to be yet another movie such as ‘Who You’d rather’ or ‘Die’, where reasonable person is pulled into the demented game of a psychopath force between killing somebody and succeeding or dying themselves. Despite the recent familiarity of this theme, I had hoped that there would be enough originality here to make a difference. The one thing about having watched movies literally numbering in the tens of thousands is that I rather enjoy my suppositions are proven wrong. I am certain I am not alone in going into horror films with the distinct feeling of being jaded to what is passed off as horror in today’s current connotation of the term. All too often, special effects, consisting of copious quantities of stage blood and entrails purchased from a local slaughterhouse when combined with actresses with what can only be described as a genetic lack of modesty, is all that is needed to make a flick that can be passed off as horror. I was pleasantly surprised that this team of filmmakers chose to travel down the path not frequently taken.
The underlying basis of this film is one of psychological terror. While it is quite possible to glean the true nature of the production company, and perhaps even the nefarious purpose, that is secondary to witnessing the physical degradation of Sarah as accompanied by a psychological stability and any semblance of emotional well-being. Alex Essoe, also credited as Alexandra Essoe, is simply amazing in her presentation of Sarah. She is not only capable of capturing the essence of this young woman, but more importantly, captured the sympathy of the audience pulling us into caring about Sarah. Only by doing this as well, as she did was the tightly crafted script of this writing pair come to life as first we all afforded the opportunity to care about the character, which is crucial if the audience is to be continually engaged as we watched the physical and moral decay of what has been established to be a nice young woman. Not only was a pair of filmmakers able to provide a script that embodied the psychological horror of watching the disintegration of a personality, but this stylistic approach to relating the story was something well worth watching, and warrants repeated viewings. I didn’t feel as if they were depending upon the stories to set the mood as much as how the actors, especially Ms. Essoe embodied the essence of the story, extracting inherent terror, shaping it so as to envelop the audience within it. This is one of those little gems you find that you have the predilection in patients to comb through the ever-expanding world of independent film. It is rare that a freshman opus, particularly one resulting from a writing/directing partnership, to exhibit such quality and make such an impact. I will be anxiously awaiting news of what the next have in store for their fans, myself very much included.