Directed by A.T. White.
Starring Virginia Gardner, Christina Masterson, and Eric Beecroft.
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.
What happens when your grief and anxiety is so bad that it seems like it’s the end of the world? And then, to make things even worse, it is the end of the world?
A.T. White’s assured debut explores all this and much more in a memorable genre-shifting work that embraces vintage Lovecraftian cosmic horror mixed with 90s-era angst trauma. The beautifully skewed vision is teeming with ideas that artfully explode onto the screen, providing a psychedelic flurry of dream-scenes and nightmare imaginings that are both transporting and memorable.
Following Aubrey (an assured performance from Gardner) as she struggles to come to terms with the passing of her best friend Grace, Starfish is concerned with the interplay between the personal and the absolute. The film begins with Aubrey breaking into Grace’s apartment after the funeral, taking in the memories and ephemera of her friends’s life to try and get closer in order to understand what happened.
This process of grief management is played out with Aubrey living in Grace’s space; looking after her pets, reveling in her memories of their former life together. These clues to what happened are offered as flashbacks and we see just how far Aubrey’s mind and emotions are reeling.
And then to make things even wilder, Aubrey wakes up to sheer desolation in the town. All signs of human activity have disappeared, and there’s literally no one around. A mysterious audio contact proclaims that a quarantine is in effect, and things start to get really bizarre.
Aubtry finds Grace’s cassette collection, including the mixtape ‘that will save the world’ and discovers that she has left several others in different locations around her (now empty of people) home town. This treasure hunt aspect of the film is particularly well done, and Aubrey’s darkly amused demeanour suits the entertaining and always emotive feel of the story.
The film takes in a wealth of influences, with it being impossible to call it anyone single thing. It certainly isn’t a standard horror or disaster film. It owes more to a kind of slipstream approach, with the emphasis being on Aubrey’s internal monologue and trying to make sense of the apocalyptic firestorm. Not wanting to spoil, but there are monsters involved, although I’d suggest that it’s the monsters of memory and nightmare that are far scarier.
A powerful soundtrack of alternative music (Sparklehorse, Sigur Ros) cements AJ White’s personal approach in making this film; the musician and filmmaker clearly has a lot invested in the visionary world on show. There’s even a remarkable animated sequence that recalls the kind of late night stuff you might find on MTV in the mid 90’s.That, plus a Twilight Zone style fourth wall break, is further evidence of White’s creative drive.
These remarkable indulgences may well be a little too much for some, but if you’re willing to let yourself go along with the trippy dream-like atmosphere of the piece there are many treats to be enjoyed. In what is clearly a personal project for White, there is a wealth of ideas bursting out of the film. It captures the feeling of confusion and grief that comes after a loss of a friend, and really gets into the psyche of the main character.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Starfish is released on VOD/digital in the US, UK, AUS, NZ and Canada on May 28th.
Robert W Monk