DreadWorld Review: Starry Eyes (2014)

Making it as an actress in Hollywood can be a bitch. Between the casting calls, the call backs, the endless waitress jobs, and dirt bags trying to take advantage of you it's almost impossible to know who you can and who you can't trust. Even with all those well known life ruining pitfalls, thousands of young women journey to the and of the bright lights to throw their proverbial hats in the ring hoping to become Americas next sweetheart.

That's the situation Sarah (Alexandra Essoe) finds herself in at the beginning of the Kevin Kolsch/Dennis Widmeyer written and directed film Starry Eyes. Sarah is working at a Hooters rip off restaurant being passively sexually harassed by the manager (Pat Healy) and various other male employees. She spends her off time, as most aspiring actresses do, taking acting classes, going on "cattle call" open auditions, and scouring the interwebs for potential acting jobs. It's via this third route where she gets, what she perceives is a shot at her big break. But for Sarah, she learns that the underbelly of Hollywood is much more sinister than she could have ever imagined.

In many ways, Starry Eyes bears a striking resemblance to Writer/Director Eric Englands film Contracted (review HERE). Both films feature a female protagonist who makes a terrible life decision and pays the physical price. But where as Contracteds Najara Townsend is rather aloof and at times antagonistic about her plight, Essoe as Sarah is, for the most part, extremely sympathetic and vulnerable. And for a film like Starry Eyes, it's Essoes wonderful performance that carries the narrative.

Second time writer/directors Kolsch and Widmeyer craft a narrative that's both subtle, yet bludgeoningly simplistic. The film dances on the fence of exploitation and tastelessness at certain points but as film makers they know exactly when to exercise restraint, pulling back at exactly the right time. There is a certain feel to the film, one that invokes some of the best that a director like Ti West has to offer. It's kind of retro, in this case it feels like what a modern Hammer horror film should feel like, if you strip away the overt Gothic subtexts that always dominate Hammer films. But like West, and unlike a lot of the Hammer films, it shows patience and restraint, taking time to build characters and interest in their stories before unleashing hell, as they say.

Starry Eyes meticulous story telling is buoyed by some tremendous supporting performance. Healy (The Innkeepers - Review HERE) as Sarah's boss at the restaurant is a bit creepy, yet he feels very earnest, almost to the point that you empathize with him. Genre fave Noah Sagen (DeadGirl - Review HERE) is almost always a welcome sight in independent horror. And Maria Olsen and the casting director who ensnares Sarah in the studios web of deceit is creepy as hell.

The film is not perfect, there are certain elements, especially at the beginning of the third act that feel rushed or false. While the film recovers nicely but the end, it's almost as if Sarahs ourney is far more important than her destination. Speaking of the films ending, there are certainly no black or white answers to satiate those that desire them. The ending of the film is left rather non-committal and if you are one of those people that despises ambiguity then Starry Eyes may leave you feeling a little underwhelmed by it's final reel.

Starry Eyes is one of those films that will leave you thinking about it for days after. It's a wonderful film that deftly turns one of the oldest film tropes - the struggling actress, desperate to make it, on it's head. It features some very strong performances and tremendous writing. While it falls apart a bit in the third act, there is still enough positive in the film to make viewing it worthwhile. It's certainly the best film that shares it's title with a filler track on Motley Crue's debut LP 'Too Fast For Love.' Starry Eyes is currently streaming on the NetFlix - check it out.

**** 1/4 stars out of *****

That's it for me. As always, thanks for reading and "enjoy every sandwich."

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