DIRECTOR Kevin Kolsch; Dennis Widmyer WRITER Kevin Kolsch; Dennis Widmyer STARS Alexandra Essoe; Amanda Fuller; Noah Segan DVD 16 March

Starry EyesHollywood has long served as the perfect backdrop for morality tales of Faustian pacts. The notion of selling one’s own soul for stardom is a potent one, especially in today’s celebrity infatuated culture.  Starry Eyes takes scathing sideswipes at the soulless vacuum that is the Dream Factory and all the flesh and hopes it has chewed up and spat out throughout the years. It’s a powerful, deeply unsettling rumination on the cost of fame and stardom and the monstrous things desperately ambitious people are prepared to do in order to obtain it.

Unfurling as a blood-dark character study, the narrative follows Sarah, a young, eager-to-prove-herself Hollywood actress whose encounter with a sinister production company sends her reeling downwards into a harrowing maelstrom of despair, madness and diabolism, as she attempts to make her dreams of fame a reality. With echoes of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire, and Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, the film slow-burns its way to a chilling denouement. Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer direct proceedings in measured, suitably restrained fashion, suffusing events with a stifling air of foreboding. Enhancing the dread-saturated atmosphere is a throbbing electronic score courtesy of Jonathan Snipes. A love letter to the likes of John Carpenter, Fabio Frizzi and Goblin, it pulses and twinkles creepily throughout.

As the helpless Sarah, Alexandra Essoe delivers a startling performance, perfectly conveying her character’s desperation. The increasingly unorthodox and downright sinister demands made of her by the producers, and what she seems prepared to subject herself to in order to appease them, becomes a source of unbearable tension. When she blurts “I’ll do whatever it takes” the line is imbued with sinister implications, and she is informed by the casting director (a chilling Maria Olsen), in no uncertain terms, that “dreams require sacrifice”. The delicate line between psychological and supernatural is, for a time, deliciously murky, while Sarah’s experimenting with drugs lends the narrative an irresistible ambiguity.

Moments of highly disturbing, Cronenbergian body horror bubble to the surface as Sarah’s body begins to decay before her eyes. Her rotting form arguably represents how she perceives herself, or even how others perceive her — an externalisation of her rotten core — but it’s difficult not to read this as an allegory for the Hollywood fame machine and the monsters it creates, as her warped sense of entitlement becomes as horrific as her disintegrating body. While some may find the climactic orgy of violence, merciless cruelty and extreme bloodshed a touch jarring given the smouldering build-up to it, it works perfectly within the story, demonstrating as it does just how far Sarah has gone to prove her worth and ‘earn’ her role. There’s a strong sense of tragedy that stems from her manipulated reinvention to fit the Hollywood mould — mainly because she invited it to happen. Essoe’s performance, along with the cutting screenplay, lays bare the ugliness (or the resilience, depending on how you look at it) of the human spirit.

Posted by James Gracey

James is the author of Dario Argento (Kamera Books) and a monograph on The Company of Wolves (Devil’s Advocates). He contributes to Diabolique, and has also written for Paracinema, Film Ireland, Eye for Film, Little White Lies and The Quietus.