Starry Eyes (Dir. Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer)

Starry Eyes is the 2014 film starring Alexandra Essoe as a woman out to get hers, and the horrors she will visit upon herself to achieve her ambitions to be a hollywood star.  One of the best ways I’ve heard this movie described is Rosemary’s Baby if it was from Guy’s perspective, and Guy was Rosemary.  But that sells what actually happens short, which is this melange of synthy epileptic young jean commercial coated over the top of a brutal examination of a system designed to rip apart and destroy the young women it needs to sustain itself.

The most potent aspects of this film have to deal with Alexandra Essoe’s worth as a human being, and how that is lensed through her youth and beauty–and more than that this is a movie about cuthroat competition between women to get to the top of a mountain, which still sits at the pleasure of the old white man in the sky.  The acrid relationship between Essoe’s Sarah and her roommate’s friend Erin, played by Fabianne Therese is a game of small cuts every day, day in and day out.  The two are waging long term psychological warfare; trying desperately to assert themselves as the number one woman both in their group, and also  in their shared field of acting.  There’s no real cognizance from either Sarah or Erin that what their doing is unnaturally brutal–only that it is the harsh reality of a world that only allows for one woman at a time.  As Sarah herself says to her boss at her waitressing job in response to his statement  that millions of other women would die for her job, “I’m not millions of other girls!”–this expectationalism isn’t unique in the human condition, but strained through the hollywood system of millions of girls who are not like the other girls–who are both dying and killing each other for a role that is still subservient to the white male producer in the sky–it’s pretty gut wrenching stuff.

And so it’s no surprise that the victims that Essoe first chooses when she becomes murderous, ARE women.  And the men she kills are only because of their relationship to the women that she kills.  They are an afterthought to her ire.

The largest reason to see this though is Alexandra Essoe’s performance.  The transformations and horrors that her body goes through, and her ability to convey both wide eyed innocence, and demonic hysterical predation from scene to scene is really remarkable.  It is a full bodied performance, and the duality she presents is the conflict of the things you have to do to be THE girl, against the expectations of you and your body as A woman.

There is also something to be said for the effects in general, and the basic theme of the mutilation and destruction of both vanity and beauty.  When one of Sarah’s friends breaks her face at the pool, Sarah laughs to herself–but the fundamental horror of a woman’s disfigurement is that societally we place a woman’s power in her beauty to such an extent, that there is a real horror in this kind of disfigurement, because it has an attendant loss of social power and status.  For a beautiful woman to become wretched is to traffic into the abject.  Her face isn’t becoming disfigured–it is being twisted by the natural processes of blood, healing, and injury that require survival–the notion of disfigurement particularly with women, sits in the idea that it is not enough to simply survive, or even to be able to accomplish things in your time–you must also pleasure a system predicated upon the very things which create the concept of disfigurement in the first place.  Disfigured beauty exposes the shame of our shallowness and exposes, uncomfortably that our ideas of beauty are in opposition to life itself.

Once Essoe is reborn, it is not her form that has changed–but a combination of her status, and her acknowledged complicity in the perpetuation of a system that has made her.  She finally looks like the starlets on her wall–but she has been exposed through the course of the film as the malformed monster of our own pitiful creation.

Maybe the performance of the year.


New Release Review: Starry Eyes

Hollywood may be perceived as glitz and glamor from the outside, but those who have are in the film business will tell you that it can be a dark, shallow place. Starry Eyes takes the viewer inside this cutthroat world, focusing on a desperate actress who’s willing to become a slave to the industry for a shot at fame. Jealous so-called friends, sleazy producers, demeaning day jobs and arduous, soul-bearing auditions are merely the beginning of the struggle.

Sarah Walker (Alex Essoe) is an an aspiring actress anxiously awaiting her big break. That moment finally seems to arrive when she scores an audition for Silver Scream, the latest film from esteemed production company Astraeus Pictures. A coveted callback affords her the opportunity to meet with the mysterious producer (Louis Dezseran), at which point Sarah confesses that she will do whatever it takes to win the role. Little does she know that she will be tested in more ways than she could ever imagine.

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Year: 2014
Director: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
Cast: Alex Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Noah Segan, Fabianne Therese
Themes: Fame, Cults, Pacts, Ambition, Hollywood

“Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul. I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.” – Wise words from one of Hollywood’s most tragic victims Marilyn Monroe. It might just be funny, if it wasn’t so bitterly true. It’s no secret that if you want to make it in Tinseltown, really make it big, then you are going to have to make sacrifices. But how far is someone prepared to go to achieve that fame and fortune? Would they degrade themselves, for example? Would they sleep with a producer? Would they make cosmetic changes? Would they step over others? Would they kill? Would they die for their cause? Would they sell their soul to the devil?

These are the questions that directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer ask in Starry Eyes– a part crowd funded film that has been garnering much applause from the genre community since its release in 2014. Kölsch and Widmyer’s vision of the Hollywood casting couch and one girl’s plight to get that big break, isn’t so much the satire it has been tagged but more a mallet to the face when delivering its central message. We join young Sarah (Alex Essoe) who while working in a crappy job as a waitress, knows her life is destined for bigger things. She attends audition after audition, knowing that her moment in the sun is just around the corner. When a script arrives from Astraeus Pictures for a horror film The Silver Scream she thinks this could be just the thing she has been looking for. Astraeus are very interested in Sarah; they see her as someone prepared to take the necessary action to get what she wants, and set about testing the newly discovered-would be- starlet to the extreme. It’s up to her now, she just has to demonstrate how much she wants this, and then all her dreams will be realised- not without cost of course, and it’s down to Sarah to decide if she’s prepared to pay to get what she wants.

Kölsch and Widmyer make no bones about weaving a warped little web of corruption as their wicked tale unravels. The film starts off in A Serbian Film territory, as Sarah moves around meeting producers and putting herself through an audition process, before skipping way beyond that into highly unexpected waters; riffing on that age old idea of the Faustian Pact- albeit with a flavour of body horror Thanatomorphose style mixed with Soavi’s The Sect. It makes for a heady brew, and one that keeps you guessing as things go from bad to worse. What is interesting is, although there are these little essences of other films to be found, Starry Eyes grabs originality through its off-centre unsettling aura and nihilistic edge. It is grim. It’s nasty in its scathing attack on the Hollywood machine. It is a film that adequately reflects the values of the selfie generation- with everyone wanting their fifteen minutes; the craving for fame and fortune and sense of entitlement that follows. Hollow characters populate a grey, soulless canvass, and Sarah, head of it all is the most soulless of them all. This causes confusion, because you are never really sure whether to root for her or those around her that are just as lacking in gumption or likeability. It’s a perplexing position for the viewer, because here is a narrative that deliberately removes those usual pointers which guide the audience into caring. But despite of this, you still do. Part of the ‘magic’,if you can call it that, of the piece is Alex Essoe’s performance in the central role. It’s almost as if she sleepwalks through the part, showing nothing of the hunger or passion that should be the drive behind achieving one’s goals- instead what we have is a feeling of resignation, and being a pawn or victim of a system that moves young people through its ranks before spitting them back out; a feeling of dirty desperation that leaves a nasty taste in your mouth. But then in the same blow, what she does is unforgiveable and we see nothing of humanity inside this strange, detached character; so she is neither a true villain nor an object of pity. The makers tell us nothing about Sarah. We meet her as this bizarre journey begins and ends, and therefore we have nothing to attach to other than a bleak prospect, and a message that goes against the grain by subverting the well-trodden moralistic codes often rife in horror.

All this is not delivered without flaw, however. Starry Eyes misses a couple of beats when it comes to pacing, which could have done with a slight tightening up. There are moments when it threatens to grind to a halt. Then there are those crescendos when matters explode in amongst the quiet, and what moments they are- complete with some impressively nasty effects; these make up for the slight over emphasis on the calm before the storm.

To be fair nothing is ever perfect. On balance, for a modern horror Starry Eyes comes out a lot more thought-provoking than many of its peers. It is a feature that generates discussion and uses a subtle clever weaving to reel its audience in. Some might find that the lack of full-on shocks and scares is off putting, but it’s a film that pays off if you are prepared to go the full distance. Brutal at times, weirdly gripping at others, slightly too long for its own good, Starry Eyes is, nevertheless, very worthwhile.

Review: Starry Eyes (2014) Year: 2014 Director: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer Cast: Alex Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Noah Segan, Fabianne Therese…
'Starry Eyes' Review - The Sacrifice of Stardom?

‘Starry Eyes’ Review – The Sacrifice of Stardom?

What would you do to be a star? If you look at modern society it seems that people will do anything to get their fifteen minutes of fame.  Starry eyes is a film looking at the darker side of Hollywood, taking the audience into a fictional world where fame comes at a price that most would never dream of paying, but for those willing to go that far…the world is theirs.

Sarah (Alexandra Essoe) is…

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Starry Eyes

Starry Eyes is a 2014 American horror film written and directed by Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer. It stars Alexandra Essoe, Amanda Fuller (Red, White & Blue), Noah Segan, Fabianne Therese (John Dies at the End), Shane Coffey, Natalie Castillo, Pat Healy (The Innkeepers), Nick Simmons, Maria Olsen, Marc Senter, Louis Dezseran.

A hopeful young starlet uncovers the…

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Trailer for my film: John Dies at the End 

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New posters for Starry Eyes

Starry Eyes is directed by Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch. The film stars Alexandra Essoe, Noah Segan, Pat Healy, Amanda Fuller, Shane Coffey, and Fabianne Therese .