Starfish Movie Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Released by Yellow Veil Pictures
Written and directed by A.T. White
101 minutes, 2019, Not Rated
Released on March 13th, 2019
Virginia Gardner as Aubrey
Christina Masterson as Grace
In the movie business, there is perhaps no more loaded phrase than “based on a true story”. That can mean anything from an initial spark of inspiration to a jumping off point to a dramatic retelling. It’s an open-ended statement that is, ultimately, in the hands of the creator. In this case, A.T. White’s true story is his first full-length picture, an extremely intimate tale of loss and ensuing grief.
Starfish is the story of Aubrey (Virginia Gardner; Halloween), a beautiful and broken young woman who’s lost her best friend, Grace (Christina Masterson; Power Rangers Megaforce), to an undisclosed illness. Following the funeral, she’s adrift and breaks into Grace’s apartment to connect and grieve. While doing so, she plays a mixtape left for her that brings about the end of the world at the hand of Lovecraftian horrors. As she comes to grips with what has happened, she embarks on a mission (a last gift from Grace) to find the other mixtapes hidden about town in all their special places and save the world.
Starfish is another film that will inevitably bring up the old style versus substance debate. This is arthouse stuff draped in a veil of cosmic horror and achingly human grief. The use of indie mixtape music as the catalyst and soundtrack will not be for everyone, but there is so much raw emotion and force of will put into the underlying theme that you can’t help but be impressed even when you are totally confused.
In what is essentially a one-woman show (Grace appears only briefly a couple of times), Virginia Gardner ensures that you can’t look away from her. Sure, she’s girl-next-door beautiful…but it’s the depth of her grief and her trust in her late friend that establishes the connection for all the strangeness to follow. After all, don’t we all have that friend? Maybe I felt this one a little more because I lost mine to an aneurysm at far too young of an age, but I would have followed his instructions implicitly, even when the creatures that look like they escaped the set of The Mist showed up. No hesitation.
The cosmic horror elements are authentic and pair well with the apocalyptic vibe and gorgeously frozen over setting. It’s a mix that gives a particular flavor that (again) ties in with how loss and grief really feel in your heart – cold, isolated, and terrifying. The scene with the big baddie is a thing of beauty, even if it did feel like you were literally watching a scene from that aforementioned Stephen King gem.
There are flaws in the narrative that make it hard to follow, however. Did the hidden signal really cause all this horror and destruction? How much takes place in Aubrey’s mind? Time jumps and abrupt locale swaps leave you unsure of what is real. The heavy reliance on indie music gives it a flavor that is sometimes directly at odds with what is happening. The animation sequence is almost gratuitous.
And while real is (admittedly) a term that doesn’t apply in the traditional sense to a movie like Starfish, reality is something that many of you may crave (or even flat-out need) in a movie. If you’re that person, then I would implore you put some effort into feeling what A.T. White wants you to feel as opposed to getting caught up in the logic of it. However, Starfish is made with such a keen eye for detail and a sense of emotional resonance that it would be a shame to dismiss it for something so negotiable as logic. In fact, it’s one of those movies that will probably need a second viewing to fully “get it”.
One thing is for sure, though: A.T. White (frontman Al White of the UK band Ghostlight) has a voice that demands to be heard. His is a name that you will hear in the future with much more fanfare than something as lightly-budgeted as Starfish will produce. Remember the name.
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