Friday, April 5, 2019


A.T. White

Aubrey (Virginia Gardner) has just lost her best friend, Grace (Christina Masterson) to cancer. She breaks into her friend’s apartment, sleeps in their bed and feeds her jellyfish. When Aubrey awakens, the power has gone out and the town is covered in snow. Monsters and monoliths lurk outside. Aubrey finds a mixtape from her friend explaining that something has gone wrong and now it is up to Aubrey to find seven tapes with a hidden signal to put things right. Aubrey must confront her own despair and guilt in a way she never expected as she hunts around town for the hidden tapes.

Starfish isn’t a linear story, because grief isn’t linear. It moves and flows with a will of its own. When you think you’ve moved past your grief it can come rushing back unbidden. Starfish works this way as well, it is awash in moments of isolation and melancholy that can suddenly give way to terror and on a few occasions some humor. The story is not aimless though, Aubrey has a goal and moves towards it, even if she and the audience don’t always understand what that goal is or how to achieve it. As is the experience of grief, the only way out is to keep moving in a direction, any direction.

The only effective cure for hay fever.
The film was reportedly made for less than a million dollars, but you would never be able to tell that from the look of it. The pristine look of the snow covered exteriors, the often formally structured shots, and even the CGI monsters, floating objects, and mysterious translucent domes all look spectacular. There is a coldness (beyond just the snow) and a distance to much of the imagery. Aubrey is often isolated in a shot, even when the few other characters are in a scene with her. Her isolation and dissociation become apparent long before another character points it out to her.

The mixtapes and music form the core of the experience of Starfish, songs create their own vignettes from shopping to wandering different environments such as an animated chase scene. The film even falls back on itself in a self-reflective fourth wall break that embodies visually a moment of total dissociation from the self. The final bleak moments of Starfish are astonishingly beautiful.

Wanna hear my Wolf Eyes, Wolves in the Throne Room, Wolfmother, mixtape?
A film as personal as Starfish can certainly lead to several interpretations, and even those can change over time. It is a film that haunts the mind in the same ways that grief will do. The science-fiction and horror elements aren’t merely set dressing over a standard drama, they are integral to unhooking the drama from reality and letting it drift towards the strange spaces that the film wants to explore. It made me reflect upon my own experience with grief and loss, and it also touched upon my love of cosmic horror. A brilliant film and I look forward to seeing more from A.T. White.

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