Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Women in Horror: Starry Eyes

* spoilers *

Sarah Walker is miserable as an aspiring actress in Los Angeles seeking that one big break. She has a demeaning job she hates and a group of friends she loathes. She spends most of her time going on as many casting calls as possible and waiting for responses. After stumbling on a part for a film called The Silver Scream from Astraeus pictures, an long running production company, she is subject to a series of unconventional auditions where she seems to impress them. To secure the part of her dreams, she must do the unthinkable and she has to decide if her dreams are worth giving up everything in her life.

Starry Eyes is an intriguing film that examines how far you would be willing to go to achieve your dreams. Sarah is already a little bit unhinged when the film starts most likely because of the constant frustration of rejection. She's stuck in stasis in a place in her life where she is unfulfilled and miserable. Her job is a waitress at a wannabe Hooters called Big Taters where she has to wear a skin tight uniform, say horrible potato puns all day, and provide eye candy for the patrons. Her circle of friends are only around her because they are friends with her roommate Tracy. Sarah keeps them at a distance and refuses to be part of their pathetic projects. She strives for more and she isn't satisfied making small films or partying with them. Most of them are unsupportive and toxic anyway, the most horrible being Erin who constantly snipes at Sarah with backhanded comments and steals the roles Sarah auditions for. The only sympathetic ones are her roommate Tracy and an aspiring filmmaker named Danny. Her desperation has already almost reached its limit because she knows how unlikely it is to make it big as an unknown actress with no credits to her name. She isn't deluded enough to think that it's a sure thing anymore despite the fact that she seems to be very talented.

This brings us to her odd series of auditions for Astraeus. Right before, Sarah has a dream where her habit of throwing a temper tantrum and pulling out her hair in anger makes bomb her audition. In reality, it's the only reason she makes it to the next stage of auditions. After doing her best and being dismissed by the harsh representatives, Sarah indulges in her masochistic outburst in the bathroom, which catches their attention and interest. They praise her for showing a part of herself no one else knows about and they are the first to accept her for who she truly is. The second audition is equally strange and more abusive than the first in which she is instructed to strip down and let her inhibitions go. The longevity and prestige of the company is emphasized when she's uncomfortable as if that suddenly makes it ok. The third interview is with the produce of Astraeus who makes it clear without explicitly requesting that sexual favors are required. Sarah is understandably shocked and disgusted and storms out of the room, but she immediately wonders if she made the right decision. A lot of us can relate to Sarah especially in an economic time when minimum wage just isn't enough to even live on your own. I know lots of people stuck in jobs they hate just to make a living and pay the bills. How many people would endure the abuse and momentary grossness to change their lives permanently? Sarah already exploits her body and is demeaned daily at her job. Why not
endure it for the thing she wants most in the world?

The deal is not as it seems when Sarah returns to beg for the position. When she returns home, it becomes clear she is going to die as her skin rots away. The price of her life and her dreams is destroying her previous life. This includes being fired from her job and killing her friends. Most of her friends are rude, exploitative, or just plain unmemorable, so I didn't feel much emotion at their deaths except for appreciation at their genuine reactions. The few people I sympathized with were Sarah's Big Taters boss and Erin. Her boss is merely abused instead of being murdered, but I felt for him. Instead of being the stereotypical lecherous boss, he was sympathetic to her and showed he was genuine. I was shocked to sympathize with two faced Erin because every comment out of her mouth made me uncomfortable for Sarah. The scene preceding Erin's death showed how very different she and Sarah are. Erin deduces that Sarah went through with giving sexual favors for a role and proceeds to mock in her usual two faced fashion. However, when she turns on the light and sees that Sarah's face looks horrific, Erin is immediately concerned and wants take her to the hospital. She wouldn't do what Sarah is doing just for fame and fortune. Not only do sexual favors for fame disgust her, but she cares about her friends underneath her insufferable exterior. The health and well-being of her friend was way more important than anything else in that moment. Erin could very well have been simply a malicious, one dimensional character, but proved to be a nuance character and the perfect foil for Sarah.

A lot of parallels can be drawn between Starry Eyes and Contracted during this part of the film because both women are rotting away and kill their friends. However, Sarah's ordeal is completely different because it's a trial to endure before her prize. She sheds her humanity and her old life in order to emerge as a flawlessly beautiful but eerily inhuman creature. While hunger and evil acts for fame in the film industry are not new, this film takes a fresh look at it by showing both the figurative and literal consequences of selling your soul at once. Starry Eyes gives a bit of a throwback to the 70's with the just dissonant enough score and the Rosemary's Baby-esque cult. It also features strong performances from Alexandra Essoe as unhinged and desperate Sarah, Amanda Fuller as earnest and well-meaning Tracy, and Fabianne Therese as two faced but ultimately caring Erin. Starry Eyes is one of the standouts of last year that I just couldn't stop thinking about.

My rating: 9/10 fishmuffins

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