The Cult in STARRY EYES (2014) by Kim McDonald
The common factor of most cults is they don’t appear dangerous at the beginning. They appeal to those looking for guidance and acceptance. They offer understanding and a chance to be part of something important. It is only after the person has been lured in do they realize the price of belonging is the sacrifice of everything they have and their complete subjugation. STARRY EYES is more than a cautionary tale about a naive starlet sucked into the seedy side of show business. It is Hollywood as a cult, feeding on ambition to achieve its demonic ends.
Written and directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, STARRY EYES follows Sarah Walker (Alex Essoe), a young woman singularly driven to be a movie star. Chafing under a dead-end waitressing job and superficial friendships, she is thrilled to be offered an audition with Astraeus Pictures, a respectable production company looking for a resurgence. Each subsequent callback becomes more like an initiation ritual, and Sarah is drawn into something sinister.
Astraeus is not interested in Sarah for her acting ability but rather her mental and emotional fragility. At the first audition, Sarah has a severe anxiety attack causing her to pull out her hair and fall into an epileptic-like fit. What follows are bizarre nightmares and secretive phone calls and meetings with The Producer (Louis Dezseran). The Producer is the cult leader. He assures Sarah he holds the key to everything she desires. The role he is offering her is “a gateway part;” she will become not just an actress, but part of Hollywood Eternity. He sees in her someone who can be completely broken down and transformed into a “vessel” for his vision.
Sarah refuses at first, disgusted at the thought of being just another casting couch victim. However, her ambition overrides her moral indignation. The thought of wasting away as a Tator’s Girl serving burgers in hot pants and heels while watching the crowd around her playing at wanting to be famous pushes her to accept the Producer’s offer and conditions. She begins a terrifying process of physical deterioration. She also must shed any shred of humanity or emotion. She submits to the transformation willingly and, in the end, does become the ultimate vessel for the cult, in exchange for the stardom she always wanted.
STARRY EYES creates an atmosphere of predatory menace. No one in Sarah’s life seems to have her interests at heart; her friends and her boss all seem to be salivating at the thought of exploiting her or watching her fail. As horrifying as her degeneration is, it seems to have a purpose. The Producer is at least offering her something in return. As Sarah says, “If I’m going to sell my soul, it might as well be for something I love.”