The word "fearless" gets thrown around a lot to describe actors' performances, usually when those actors play irredeemable characters or, more accurately, work without the same amount of vanity as usual. ("Oh! Jennifer Aniston didn't wear makeup! She's fearless!") It has become such a buzzword used to describe a specific kind of star turn that it has lost its meaning -- so much so that when a performance comes around that truly feels "fearless," we fail to recognize it as much as we should. Such is the case with Alexandra Essoe's performance in 2014's Starry Eyes, the second feature from the writing/directing team of Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer. What she does in the movie is brilliant and exhausting upon first viewing and only better on every subsequent viewing. It's a performance for the ages.
Though she had been working in consistently in independent films, short films and television since 2008, Starry Eyes was my first exposure to Essoe. And though I was wrongly mixed on the film the first time I saw it (I'm on record as liking it with reservations; it wasn't until I had some weeks to live with it that the movie grew in my estimation and went on to become my favorite horror movie of last year), I knew that Essoe's performance in the film was its greatest asset.
She plays Sarah Walker, a would-be actress in Hollywood working a demeaning day job as a waitress at a Hooters-style restaurant called Big Taters (owned by the great Pat Healy). When a lead role in a film called The Silver Scream becomes available, Sarah discovers just how far she's willing to go to become a star.
It is during this section that Essoe really lets it rip. While her two audition scenes early in the film are standouts -- she goes for it in a way that we're not used to seeing on film, as most actors are either a) too vain or b) only willing to demonstrate their lack of vanity in air quotes -- it's as Sarah starts falling apart that Essoe wholeheartedly embraces her character's ugliness, both physical and otherwise, her once delicate beauty now totally at odds with the living corpse she has become. When she lays on the floor of her bathroom and screams "I'm dying," it is both sad and deeply horrifying. Like in the great body horror of David Cronenberg, Kolsch and Widmyer understand that the only thing more disturbing than your body deteriorating is knowing what is happening to you.
There just aren't enough words to express how good Essoe is in the movie. One can imagine so many other actors in the role being uncomfortable with what she is asked to do (and she is asked to do a lot) and pushing it too far towards camp or self-consciousness. Yes, the film demands that Essoe maintain a certain level of feverish hysteria, but she's never shrill, never missteps. Hers is a haunting, nightmarish performance that goes right for the gut. She is fearless in the best possible way. It's the kind of work of which movie stars are made, and Essoe didn't even have to kill anyone to do it.
I heard good things about this when it came out. I really wanted to like it, but found it to be just Es(so)e-Es(so)e. This article has convinced me to give it a second shot. I think I'll try and get it in in these last few days of SMM.ReplyDelete
A bit of trivia: During the shot where Essoe vomits mealworms it was supposed to be done in post then cut to mealworms in the tub. Essoe insisted on actually putting the worms into her mouth and then spitting them out. That's fearlessness if I've ever seen it!ReplyDelete
Awesome movie and performance! Now I'm dying to watch this again. I also love her in Tales of Halloween. Small role, but she really makes the most of it.ReplyDelete
I hope you guys can get this article to Alex. I think it would make her day!
I just watched this for the first time, and I think what struck me about the performance is how much you understand the character early on, but there are so many unexpected changes that are shocking but yet somehow make sense. Part of this is good writing but it's also in the little acting subtleties that help you understand Sarah's psychology. Amazing.ReplyDelete
I can only agree. Its in the details and her subtleties are perfect, the only performance I enjoy more is Apple from Turbo kidReplyDelete
And I really really Really like Pat healy, I borrowed a friend Cheap Thrills this week because he had not seen it and he loved it, Innkeepers next
I watched this last week after Dustin and Jessica from the Popcorn Poops podcast recommended it during their commentary track for "The Fly" as one of the few contemporary horror movies that captures Cronenberg's body horror vibe from the 70's and 80's. Patrick nails it, and both the movie and Essoe are as good as advertised.ReplyDelete
Great piece on a great performance - I loved it from the get-go but have yet to give it the second watch it deserves - looking forward to a different take.ReplyDelete