Newcomer Alexandra Essoe delivers a gone-for-broke performance that electrifies Starry Eyes, a film that took the horror community by storm last year and looks to become a cult classic now that it’s landed on home video. Filmmakers Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, who wrote and directed Starry Eyes, have crafted a tightly wound film that is one part Rosemary’s Baby and one John Carpenter 80s film. However, that quick comparison doesn’t justify the well-drawn morality tale the Kolsch and Widmyer have produced.
Essoe stars as Sarah, a struggling actress living in Hollywood, pursuing her dream of becoming a great actress someday. More than just getting the great parts, though, Sarah wants to be a star. Relegated to making ends meet by working at Big Taters, a potato themed Hooters wannsbe, Sarah uses her spare time auditioning for anything and everything, taking classes, and hanging out with her group of twentysomethings friends who are big talkers, but don’t have much to show for their ambitions to be filmmakers and actors.
Sarah’s desperation to be the next big is starting to take its toll on her. The first images we see of Sarah are her literally pulling chunks of her hair out of her head to relive anxiety. Fear of failure and the obvious mental health issues Sarah displays are about to lead her down a very dark path that will have gruesome repercussions. She lands an audition for a mysterious film project being cast by two devious casting directors. Only after they catch Sarah having a meltdown in the bathroom do they consider her for the lead part in this new film. After passing the first audition, she’s asked to meet the aging producer (Louis Dezseran) for a callback. Her meeting isn’t to show off her acting skills, if you know what I mean. The old man is only interested in Sarah’s young fertile body and she must make the moral choice whether to allow the man to have his way with her, or stick to her morals.
Unfortunately, she chooses stardom, and since the Producer is the elder of a cult, things begin to go very, very wrong for Sarah.
I had no idea what was going to happen next throughout Starry Eyes. Kolsch and Widmyer do a great job of pulling you into the lives of these characters and making them all very relatable. From the mundane hours of sitting around the pool and expounding on the great things everyone wants to do, to the little slights and digs characters have at each other, the portrayal of early adulthood and that need for acceptance and want of being someone important is so well drawn that you’d think this was a Linklater movie. If not for the sharp angles, dark shadows and ominous score, you might even forget that Starry Eyes is a horror film. That said, the moment Sarah’s life begins changing, both physically and mentally, the movie quickly takes the necessary turns to draw out scares and cries of, “Oh shit.”
Starry Eyes was made on a low budget and I applaud the filmmakers for shooting guerilla style in the heart of Hollywood without permits. Despite their limited budget, nothing looks cheap or amateurish. This is first rate storytelling and further proves that you don’t need hundreds of millions of dollars to produce a great movie. From the special effects to the cinematography, and especially the acting, Starry Eyes succeeds. Essoe delivers the kind of star-making performance that I hope will catch the eyes of casting directors of all genres. She not only gave one of the best performances in a horror movie last year, but one of the best performances in any movie. Check it out and have a good time, and keep an eye out for what Essoe, Kolsch and Widmyer do next.