Welcome to the casting ouch...
In 2014, while one-time horror auteur David Cronenberg was touring the world’s glitziest film festivals with black-hearted Hollywood satire Maps To The Stars, another Tinseltown takedown was doing the considerably-less-glitzy (but a good deal more fun) genre circuit. Earning the tag “the mumblegore Mulholland Drive”, Starry Eyes is a class act, if a movie in which the protagonist vomits maggots can be described as such. It makes Cronenberg’s film look polite and anaemic by comparison.
Jobbing actress Alex Essoe plays desperate-for- a-job actress Sarah Walker, living with a coterie of fellow wannabe stars. At once confident of her talent and suffering from self-doubt that spills into self-loathing – she pulls viciously at her hair to punish her perceived shortcomings – Sarah’s dreams start coming true when she’s invited to audition for a role in horror movie The Silver Scream.
But a second audition and a meet with the producer (Louis Dezseran, going for a ‘world’s creepiest uncle’ vibe) throws up the question of just how far Sarah is willing to go to achieve fame. “It’s my love letter to this town. Ambition is the blackest of human desires,” purrs the producer of The Silver Scream, which is, of course, a mirror to Starry Eyes. Sarah replies, “But, I mean, it’s a horror movie as well?”
Starry Eyes is most certainly that, and long before an astonishing final act plunges elbows deep into some of the ickiest body horror since, yes, early Cronenberg, then takes a left turn that will leave you quivering.
Mostly, this impressive amalgam of genre and satire is all about mood: dialogue delivered fractionally off-note and with too-long pauses; a music-box score, innocent, ominous, that tinkles over an electronic pulse; claustrophobic close-ups and medium shots that are leeched of all colour (the two establishing shots of LA find the city shrouded in grey smog); Essoe’s awkward little snarl-smile revealing imperfect teeth; the double-edged remarks of a support circle who can make “I like your shoes, Sarah” sound both insulting and threatening; and the lurking presence of Maria Olsen, who has, quite simply, one of the most arresting faces in the movies – she played a Death Eater in web series Harry Potter And The Ten Years Later and has Bond henchwoman written all over her.
Kudos to writer/directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer for making a film this grisly, twisted and surprisingly sad, and for putting it together so neatly it will surely act as a Hollywood calling card. Let’s only hope that the hand still wants to feed. “The industry is a plague of unoriginality,” says the producer. “Hollow be thy name, shallow be thy name.” With talent like this coming through, it doesn’t have to be.
- Alex Essoe audition
- Deleted scenes
- Score to picture
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