#31DaysofHorror Starry Eyes Review (Film, 2014)

Starry Eyes One of the big writing tips you learn over and over again is steal from the best. Study the masters. Find a work you really love, learn it inside and out, and apply it to your own work.

There's obviously no real way to know if writers/directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmeyer used May as their master resource text for Starry Eyes, but the parallels, however coincidental, are significant.

Starry Eyes is the story of an awkward, anxious young actor named Sarah. Sarah wants nothing more than to be a star. She lands an audition for a horror film called The Silver Scream from a legit horror production company. She's willing to take any and all direction, even when it makes her uncomfortable and puts her in harm's way. Her friends aren't really her friends, just a convenient excuse to not reflect on how she really feels about the world.

I like to think of Starry Eyes as May without a likable character. The structural arc is the same: dark comedy to body horror to slasher to tragedy. The roles parallel out, too. Sarah is the May figure, surrounded by a bitchy could-be frienemy (maybe more?), a dreamboat artsy boyfriend, his ditzy hanger-ons, and a terrible boss who talks down to her.

Then there's the biggest parallel of all. May has her doll to give her guidance and lead her towards her uncomming; Sarah has Atreus. She begins to hear their voice and see their presence in every element of her life.

Atreus is the production company within the film. They demand, through increasingly bizarre auditions, that Sarah let go of her inhibitions and show her true self. Sarah only gets a callback because one of the casting directors catches her ripping her own hair out and screaming in the bathroom after the first audition.

Starry Eyes is at its most interesting when it's a horror film about terrible casting practices. I've been on the auditions where the casting people are so cruel you just want to scream and cry (ever been mooed at while singing Sondheim? It's a trip, I tell you). I've been asked to do crazy things I'd never agree to if the lure of that breakout role wasn't there. I've mercifully never had the casting couch moment, but's it's a Hollywood story mainstay because it's true and happens far too often.

The scariest elements in Starry Eyes are the true ones. Dead end survival jobs suck. Open calls with cruel casting directors are far too common. Callbacks literally ask you to bend over backwards and show what you're hiding just to sell pain meds in crappy commercials. And far too many young, vulnerable people are convinced that sacrificing their integrity is the only way in.

Starry Eyes is an uneven but ambitious horror where you really can't latch onto the characters. This world of Atreus and Hollywood is so well-established that Kolsch and Widmeyer have no time left to actual define any characters. No, anxious, bitchy, dreamy, photo-taking, clumsy, and clingy aren't full-fledged characters; they're character traits. A good story needs more.

Still, if you're in the mood for an off-beat multi-genre horror with a lot of good gags, Starry Eyes should suit you just fine. Grab some snacks and time it along to the beats of May; I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Starry Eyes is currently streaming on Netflix.

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