Now that is one angry screed..
Sarah has been dreaming and working hard in hopes of making it in the business of dreams. Like so many others living in the hills around the Hollywood sign, it is a guiding light that is both a purveyor of immense joy, and often sustained pain. Day job here, sudden audition there, it becomes a lifestyle to so many here, and yet for Sarah, things have been ringing difficult. Casting calls are beginning to interfere with her day job squealing and grinning for strangers at Tater Tots. Roommate and friends dream of films and roles that never seem to materialize. And then there's always the issue of the next month's rent. It's your classic story of this area. But today, a call has come from the once well-respected and enigmatic genre studio, Astraeus Pictures - and Sarah's luck may be brightening up..
But not without price.
Having heard strong word about Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer's indie horror satire, a part of me immediately second-hand resonated with the premise. Living in LA, this is something of a common ism among the beautiful young one comes across in artistic circles. Walk along Santa Monica Boulevard, and catch glimpses of glowing faces poised for stardom while surviving on budget meals, and couch surfing. Starry Eyes, while in no way a new tale, spins an often harrowing, and mostly heartbreaking portrait of a town that seems both youthfully idyllic, yet endlessly threatening. And it is quite lovely in how it balances borderline film school techniques with a crushing knowing hidden just beneath all the familiar Los Angeles trappings. It's a common situation which often engenders gossip of corruption, perversion, and often downright Faustian among peers which inevitably become myth to so many looking for decay hiding beneath the shimmer. Sarah's story is both familiar, and yet jarring in how it is executed as a clash between post-Ti West no budget horror, and classic late 1970s era creepfests.
But the true secret weapon of this familiar narrative is Alex Essoe, who grants us a vision of a person long in the quiet suffering who finally sees a sparkle on the horizon, no matter how sinister. Right from the first scenes, it is clear that Sarah has been barely grappling with an almost mechanistic lifestyle of rejection and disappointment. From verbally overtipping her hand during auditions, to ripping out her hair in frustration in the washroom, her world has been taking a toll. So when this possible big break in the form of a starring role for a studio long thought dormant, she finds herself willing to do just about anything to get the part. She inhabits and ultimately transforms from such disparate states of being throughout the film that it transcends much if the piece's written and directorial stiffness. Almost as if she leapt straight from the intent. This is a tough, uncomfortable role, and she delves into it with a yearning akin to Sarah herself, which also includes a physical transformation that both repels and strangely moves.
Also noteworthy are the supporting roles which feature faces familiar and new who are well worth mention. Standing out amongst this impressive troupe are Maria Olsen as the unsettling casting director, and Pat Healy, as Sarah's hopelessly trapped day gig boss. A role that could so easily have been a butt of jokes, becomes a nuanced reminder that Hollywood dreams can be a trap beyond wishes to be a film idol. Also noteworthy in selling this theme are Noah Segan and Fabianne Therese who play a would be film producer living out of his van, and she - his would-be star as they seem to live aimlessly without a film to actually shoot. They become the very thing that the film industry tends to decry and often demonize. The choice to make each option attractive and repellant is a potent one. The dreamers are beset on every corner, often forced to compromise in terrible, spiritually crippling ways in an environment that hints at the dusty, blood-spattered legacy of the death of the 1960s counterculture. A movement of cults and beliefs that has found itself entrenched so deep into the dream factory fabric, that it functions not unlike a drug to those unsuspecting. A monolithic machine, chugging along, fueled by broken hearts and longing for illusory solace.
That's right. In the desperation soaked world of Starry Eyes, all are shackled, and there is no relief to be had. It's an at-times amateurish feeling work that gets a lot of mileage out of retaliating at a system seemingly hellbent on making every human a mark, and simple human kindness into a leper-making plague. While the final product longs for a little more grace in its movements, this is a well executed scare tale that brings to light something far too many hate to consider regarding my home town, and what it still represents to so many. The final result is something both profoundly sad, and hard to shake.
It's an idiosyncratic little nightmare with more than a dose of truth ingrained deeply into its tattered, tear-stained 8 X 10.