Starfish film stills Virginia Gardner

Year: 2019
Director(s): A. T. White
Writer(s): A. T. White
Region of Origin: US
Rating: n/a
Digital, Color, 110 mins

Synopsis: A unique, intimate and honest portrayal of a girl grieving for the loss of her best friend. That just happens to take place on the day the world ends as we know it. (Source)

Losing someone might as well be the end of the world. Suddenly, everything shifts, nothing is as we remember, and there’s a part of our lives that we can never get back. A.T. White’s Starfish tackles this idea quite literally. The result is a deeply personal film that dissects grief, friendship, mixtapes, monsters and the apocalypse. If that description sounds like a lot, it’s because it is. In the best way, White’s film is cinematic catharsis via high concept sci-fi. With its piercing mix of cosmic horror and human trauma, this thing strikes a deep nerve and is absolutely as beautiful as it is chilling.

Aubrey (Virginia Gardner) is sent into a tailspin after the death of her best friend, Grace (Christina Masterson). She breaks into Grace’s vacant home but awakes to a new nightmare the next morning. The town is covered in snow, near-empty and crawling with creatures that can’t be from this world. It’s then that Aubrey discovers Grace’s final note to her. It seems that Grace and a small community of people were studying a series of signals buried within radio waves. Having collected a series of transmissions, Grace separated her findings, embedded them into a series of songs, and hid the cassettes around town. It’s rumored that together, the tapes have a power that can’t be attained while separated. Grasping for meaning, Aubrey sets out to solve a series of riddles and assemble a mixtape that could save the world. 

Simply put, White powerfully transforms ideas of loss and redemption into a fascinating, dreamlike experience. The plot frames a journey that is at once somber and stunning. It pulls us alongside Aubrey’s search for answers at a time when nothing makes sense. Since it’s able to seamlessly mix psychological fears with physical threats, the story’s contrasting sides collide and fragment a simple narrative into kaleidoscopic complexity. Fans of Lovecraftian fare like The Mist, Silent Hill or even most recently Annihilation will appreciate the two-handed display of visceral frights and personal insanity. There’s even an animated musical number of sorts and a fourth-wall collapse that keeps us on our toes. All in all, this is a genre treat the transcends the screen and ensures that we don’t just experience its hallucinatory madness, but feel the pain behind it.

Starfish film Virginia Gardner

With most of the cast either relegated to flashbacks, brief hallucinations or radio messages, Virginia Gardner carries the entire film on her back. Armed with understated direction and a smart script, Gardner is incredible. Despite the film’s impressionistic approach, she tethers us to something that feels real and inescapable. Thanks to the humanity that Gardner brings, the film always feels grounded, even amidst a series of escalating otherworldly attacks.

White’s ability to turn restrained tension into keen emotion makes a lot of Starfish feel profound. Though the film could’ve been a generic action horror pic, the emphasis on introspection and visual poetry allow it to rise beyond constraints. Better than most efforts in the genre lately, White explores how fragile life is. His exploration on the barrier between the living and the dead is thrilling and cerebral. It’s hard to say much more about the film without ruining its many surprises. Bottom line, this is a truly stunning piece of work that’s ambitious, inventive and truly hard to shake.