31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2016, Night #26 – Starry Eyes (2014)

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Tagline: She Would Kill To Be Famous

Director: Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer

Writer(s): Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer

Studio: Snowfort Pictures/Dark Sky Films

Budget: Unknown

Box Office: Unknown

Release Date: 3rd February, 2015

IMDb Rating: 6/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 75%

UK Blu Ray release? No, just DVD

Cast

Alex Essoe – Sarah

Amanda Fuller – Tracy

Noah Segan – Danny

Fabianne Therese – Erin

Shane Coffey – Poe

Natalie Castillo – Ashley

Pat Healy – Carl

Nick Simmons – Ginko

Trailer

Plot According to Google: A woman’s pursuit of Hollywood stardom puts her on a collision course with a satanic cult.

Inertia’s Insight: The pursuit of fame and fortune in the City of Angels has long been explored in the world of horror, with all manner of human behaviour being capable of committing terrible atrocities to achieve the unattainable. The City of Angels being the Devil’s playground is not exactly a new concept either, and so the two elements combined may seem like basic straight-to-DVD horror fare. On the surface – especially given the terrible looking Region 2 DVD cover – it might seem just that; but Starry Eyes is an incredible piece of filmmaking and, more importantly, an impeccable performance from relative newcomer Alex Essoe.

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Sarah is the archetypal young, beautiful aspiring actress living and surviving in L.A. Working for a restaurant called Big Taters that requires tight clothing and a permanent smile, Sarah is struggling to balance the act of a ‘real’ job versus the pursuit of her dream, and it lands her in hot water with the boss of Big Taters. Her group of friends, all similarly wannabe L.A. kids with dreams higher than their motivation, are no help either. They are absorbed in their own drama, with Erin in particular aiming to undermine Sarah at every opportunity. Sarah has one more problem to contend with, too – trichotillomania, the impulsive need to pull hair. It’s a damaging problem for her, masked permanently with a beautiful but broken smile.

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Sarah is given the opportunity to audition for The Silver Scream, a new horror film by renowned production company Astraeus Pictures. Her audition is over with no comforting sense of achievement, and so with her self-punishing attitude she defiles herself in the bathroom. This brings her to the attention of the casting agent who asks her to come in to re-create this breakdown, and from here this opens the door to unchartered, dangerous territory.

Sarah’s grasp on reality begins to slip as Astraeus continue to push her to the limits. A strange and delusional audition in which she is made to strip and then experience a euphoric encounter with something we can’t quite see is incredibly effective filmmaking from directors Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer, with a career-making performance from the beautiful Alex Essoe. Sarah’s progression is slow and subtle; at first we are not really sure what Astraeus are offering Sarah, as the stereotypical expectation of sex from the producer rears its ugly, chauvinistic head and there doesn’t appear to be any role in sight.

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It’s the personal effect that this process has on Sarah with her friends that truly turns this film up a notch. Whilst undergoing a physical transformation that she can’t explain, her behaviour becomes violent and erratic. Her friendship with her group is already balancing precariously on the precipice, but her change pushes them away. Sarah feels isolated in this adapting world, one that she has no control over. As her transformation becomes physical with incredible make-up and effects, Sarah’s final journey to becoming the star that Aestreus want is marred with blood and loss.

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Funded through Kickstarter with the support of author Chuck Palahniuk, Starry Eyes has achieved success but less than it deserves. It is a personal portrayal on the pursuit of fame and the sacrifices that come with it. The ending is bloody, brutal, and visually remarkable, a tour-de-force of Sarah’s metamorphosis from shy and reserved aspiring actress to a disfigured, destitute animal shedding its skin right through to the exceptional ending in which Sarah emerges – hairless, beautiful and reborn.

Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * * *

Trivia

  • Actress Alex Essoe really put the bugs in her mouth that were vomited by her character in the bathub.
  • The film started as a Kickstarter project and was aidded by the support of author Chuck Palahniuk’s fans.
  • Sarah’s second audition in which she strips naked in front of the spotlight was inspired by a story someone told Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch about doing an audition for David Lynch.

Quotes

THE PRODUCER: Ambition – the blackest of human desires. Everyone has it, but how many act on it?

SARAH: I will do whatever it takes for this role.

THE PRODUCER: Your face would be on the poster, the poster on a wall, a wall in a lobby, a lobby of a movie theater, a theater with a marquee: The Silver Scream.

All images courtesy of Google


Tomorrow: Night #27 – The Purge (2013)

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