Live by Night
The key question behind Live by Night isn’t so much “Why did they bother?” as “What went wrong?”
While most horror films are acquired tastes, "Starry Eyes," a nasty B-movie about an aspiring starlet who makes a deal with the Devil, is almost certainly bound to be divisive. "Starry
Eyes" is as gory as it is corrosively cynical, a supernatural mood
piece that's equally influenced by the arthouse horror movies of David
Lynch and Roman Polanski, and the grindhouse-ready Satanic Panic films
of the '70s, like "To the Devil a Daughter," and "The Devil Rides out."
What sets "Starry
Eyes" apart from its predecessors is its thoughtful focus on lead
protagonist Sarah's (Alex Essoe) monstrous ambition. Co-writer/director
Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer implicate every Hollywood type they can
think of, including exploitative casting agents and jealous rival
actresses. But inevitably, they reveal that none of the people that
either mocked, or tried to use Sarah pushed her to do anything she
didn't already want to do. Inevitably, Kolsch and Widmyer blame Sarah
for her poor decisions, making an already dark film that much more grim.
Because appearances are everything in "Starry Eyes," Kolsch and Widmyer immediately suggest that Sarah is at least a little unhinged. In an early character-defining scene, she slowly, and methodically tears out a handful of her long hair. Sarah later explains that this is her version of biting her fingernails, a way for her to stay in the moment. But in the very beginning, all we know about Sarah's bad habit is the sickening sound of her hair coming out, the glare caused by the bathroom mirror's fluorescent lighting, and the side-long reflection that looks back at Sarah.
From there, we're confronted with the jarring difference between the wearying world Sarah is already part of, and the dark one she aspires to be inducted into. For the moment, Sarah waits tables at a tacky diner, and is plagued by her roommates' passive-aggressive, concern-troll-type "compliments." So it's not surprising that Sarah willfully ignores everything that's objectively creepy about her audition for an upcoming horror film called "The Silver Scream." The film's Roger Corman-like production company is well-known enough to make Sarah's friends jealous, and her role is substantial enough that when she flunks out of her first audition, she starts pulling at her hair. But when the film's freaky-looking casting director and her assistant (Maria Olsen and Marc Senter) find out about Sarah's habit, they suddenly become very interested in Sarah.