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STARRY EYES – SXSW 2014 Movie Review

Dir: Dennis Widmyer, Kevin Kolsch

Starry Eyes tells the story of a young actress named Sarah, played by Alex Essoe (Passion Play).  Sarah’s tale is like so many in Hollywood; she has a dead-end job at a restaurant, shares an apartment with her friend Tracy (Amanda Fuller of Cheap Thrills fame) and attends auditions for acting gigs.  Sarah’s dreams of fame and stardom are shared by a group of friends (more Tracy’s than hers) that seem to always be at her apartment drinking the night away.  Noah Segan (Looper) plays Danny the aspiring director, Natalie Castillo plays Ashley and Fabianna Therese (John Dies at the End) plays Erin, who’s constant critiques of Sarah are a source of her angst and self-loathing.  Shane Coffey and Nick Simmons (Gene Simmons: Family Jewels) round out the group as Poe and Ginko.

From the beginning  of the film the viewer is made aware of Sarah’s displeasure in herself.  She stands in front of a mirror in her under garments and looks for flaws in her physique.  This doesn’t seem too unusual as she is attempting to break into a field that typically rewards looks over talent.  Then the crazy kicks in.  Sarah doesn’t punish herself by means of bulimia or hours at the gym, no, she throws tantrums and pulls out clumps of hair.  To her surprise this “talent” of hers comes to good use at an audition she attends for a studio trying to make a return to it’s past glory.  As she receives more callbacks from the studio Sarah is pushed to punish herself more by differing means, physical and psychological, until she is offered the starring role in the studio’s latest movie.

While Sarah is attending her hellish auditions she is dealing with balancing her job and personal life.  Her boss Carl (Pat Healy, Cheap Thrills, The Innkeepers) is constantly questioning her desire to work at his restaurant and her friends are either throwing support for her or throwing jabs at her, sometimes all at once. Throughout the film Sarah is tested to see how much further she is willing to go to reach her dreams even once she is offered the part in the film.

Starry Eyes begins with a strong opening sequence, the one described above where Sarah is observing her body in the mirror.  It set the tone for a dark movie with a lead I was intrigued by.  Unfortunately for me, the more time that went by in the movie the worse my critique of it became.  One moment the film comes off as a psychological exploration of Sarah then abruptly switches into a straight B movie horror.  The chemistry between the actors was fine but never drew me in.  I never became emotionally invested in the film and was glad when it finally ended.  The idea behind the movie was great, the story line could have worked but it never flowed .   The camera work consisted of various hand held frames with subtle movements that added nothing to the scenes but distraction.  The score sounded like edited tracks from a Nicolas Winding Refn movie which is not a bad thing but felt forced in this vehicle.

I think for me the film really began to fall during the 2nd act.  I enjoyed the audition scenes (except for the use of strobe lights, it came off as lazy) particularly the performance of Marc Senter (Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever) as one of the casting agents.  The tension between Sarah and the casting agents was great.  It was the bright spot of the film .   Once the producer was introduced (Louis Dezseran) the film began to loose sight of itself and became more of a project to fit in differing horror genre facets than a solid, singular story.  Dezseran’s character came off as a caricature.  His performance had the feel of a cartoon villain.  His introduction into the film ushered in the occult spin in the movie that was never explained, depicted well or given any relevant screen time.  It was just thrown in.  The 3rd act tossed out all traction built from the previous acts and became a B movie horror story consisting of predictable horror movie scenes and silly, over-the-top violence.  An example of said scene is during Sarah’s body transformation.  To depict her body’s painful breakdown the film shows her removing a single fingernail from her hand, an over-used tactic in horror movies.

For a movie with an original story and strong beginning it quickly became forgettable.  I question the filmmaker’s decision to not utilize Pat Healy.  His screen presence is unquestionable and he is a proven talent.  I would like to have seen him in a larger role.  Not all was bad with this film.  Alex Essoe’s performance was strong.  She carried the film with her physical acting and minimal dialog.  She engaged the audience with the ever thrashing of her body and metamorphosis from beauty to beast.  There is a depth to her that needs to be displayed in more films.

I hate to beat down on a film knowing the amount of work and sacrifices made to complete the project.  Unfortunately Starry Eyes never lives up to the hype surrounding the film and delivers a flat performance, like a monotone actress at an audition for Glee.  

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The Author

Tony Chapa

Tony Chapa

Long-time television and movie fan. Ph.D. in late 80's/90's network sitcoms. Exposed to cable television at a young age and it shows.