There is a certain amount of irony to the fact that Starry Eyes contains a star-making performance. After all, the film is about Sarah, a young woman desperate to make it big in Hollywood, and the fact that the actress playing her, Alexandra Essoe, shows off every reason why she should make it big is deliciously post-modern.
To call Essoe’s turn in the piece inspired is perhaps an understatement. She injects real pathos into her performance as Sarah, and manages to play a role that other actors might have been tempted to steer into melodramatic territory with a genuine subtlety. Even as her character begins to transform from a mild-mannered ambitious dreamer into something not quite human via the intervention of a production company/mysterious force, Essoe keeps Sarah grounded in the real, a decision which adds a stunning weight to the Cronenbergian body horror of Starry Eyes’ latter half.
The rest of the cast do very fine work too. Pat Healy, national treasure that he is, is leery perfection as the boss of Big Taters, and Fabianne Therese of John Dies At The End fame is splendidly unpleasant as Sarah’s rival Erin. Just as impressively, Noah Segan of Deadgirl fame brings an intense like-ability to his character, the naive and innocent Danny, ultimately becoming one of the few characters we can actively root for while keeping our consciences clean.
Starry Eyes hovers somewhere between horror comedy and vicious satire, and the fact that it never entirely submerges itself in either territory is genuinely impressive. Indeed, it never pigeonholes itself: it’s not a case of paranoid 70’s horror mimicry, or a throwback to 80’s excess, even though it contains elements of both sub-genres. It is instead genuinely unique, and rather than choosing to pump their film with pastiche, writer/directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer have enough faith to keep proceedings both straight-faced and raw.
A lot of this comes down to their decision to keep the film is so deeply grounded in real people and real emotions. Though the film’s final third dives straight off the deep end, and gorily delivers on the tension and atmosphere set up by the opening, it never loses sight at the human being at its heart. The more surreal elements of the plot are injected with a very significant vein of tragedy, and though the proceedings become genuinely very off kilter very quickly, they have a great degree of pathos.
The score is delicious, Carpenter-esque stuff; the cinematography is stunning; and the effects work (particularly the scene in which a dumb bell is used to explore the inside of a cranium) is stomach churningly brilliant. Starry Eyes had much of its budget raised through a kickstarter campaign, and it is safe to say that the backers have more than got their money back. The film isn’t just a gory, vicious take on the possession genre. Nor is it simply a takedown of Hollywood excess. It is much more than either of these things: it’s a genuinely humane exploration of a genuinely inhuman system.