The Story: An aspiring actress, down and out in West Hollywood, sells her soul for a “gateway role” in a horror movie.
Expectations: All month, I’ve been thinking about watching two films about the horrors of the entertainment industry: THE NEON DEMON and STARRY EYES. From what I’ve heard, THE NEON DEMON is a love it or hate it movie. Some people whose opinions I respect have really hated it, so I’ve been reluctant to go there. STARRY EYES seems to have reached a smaller, but generally appreciative, audience. I’ve read that it’s a more straightforward horror movie—and the poster art reminds me of RABID and ANTIVIRAL, both of which I liked—so here we go.
Reaction: At first, I couldn’t get past the clichés about the hardships of “making it in Hollywood.” Innocent young woman waiting tables while auditioning for her big break meets creepy old producer who promises fame and fortune in exchange for sex. We’ve all heard stories about the soul-sucking sausage factory that is Hollywood. And I think most of us believe that they’re true. But, as one supporting character says when she finds out that her roommate has been propositioned by a creepy old producer, “Is anybody actually doing that anymore?” It's not that she's really surprised. She's just annoyed and disgusted. It’s such a tiresome, depressing cliché. And, in my opinion, it's this cliché that hampers the first half of the film.
The moments when the film comes to life are when leading lady Alex Essoe reveals the full extent of her desperation. Her insecurities border on self-loathing, and in a way that doesn't make her entirely sympathetic. She seems to lack strength, and ultimately has to seek her strength from somewhere else.
Enter Astraeus—the Greek god of the stars, but in this film basically just a cross between Satan and L. Ron Hubbard. Devil-Hubbard's Hollywood minions offer to transform our heroine from a weak-willed wannabe into a Kardashian. She bites and, after about 40 minutes, STARRY EYES turns into a David Cronenberg movie. And that’s the part of this movie that impressed me. It’s bold enough to be genuinely bleak and brutal. Essoe and the filmmakers really go for it, and the result is a finale that left me feeling queasy.
Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: Why is so hard to watch someone pull out a dead fingernail? Severed limbs, no problem. But don’t touch that fingernail!