Reviews

STARFISH: A Visually Stunning Debut Exploring Grief

Toni reviews A.T. White's directorial debut.

For the end of the world, press play.

A.T. White’s debut feature Starfish follows Aubrey (Virginia Gardner), whose reality begins fraying at the edges as she struggles with the death of her best friend, Grace (Christina Masterson). The film opens at Grace’s funeral and her gravestone reads ‘Always Right,‘ which is the first insight we get into the deceased character.

Aubrey heads to Grace’s apartment, which helps to fill in the other parts of who Grace was: she left behind three jellyfish and a pet turtle. There’s old technology and, of course, starfish. Most notably is a mixtape titled ‘THIS MIXTAPE WILL SAVE THE WORLD.’ 

Aubrey settles down and gets lost in her own thoughts as she agonizes over Grace’s death and what appears to be a previous romantic relationship. The film, especially at the beginning, is slow and quiet, just as you’d expect life to be during a period of grief. The emotion is captured well through Gardner’s performance and the beautiful cinematography as she sits inside Grace’s cabin-like apartment.

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Virginia Gardner as Aubrey in Starfish (2018) – source: 1091/Yellow Veil Pictures

After falling asleep, Aubrey awakens to a changed world. Outside, snow has fallen – there’s also fire, litter and crashed cars, as well as blood in the snow. The apocalypse arrived overnight, pulling in elements of pure horror and sci-fi. The multi-genre mix works together exceptionally well, and even alludes to Aubrey’s fractured state of mind. There are monsters chasing after her and she’s helped by a mysterious man on the other side of a walkie talkie – a friend of Grace’s who says she had the answer.

Grace’s ghost pops in to check on and help Aubrey from time to time. There’s a very eerie atmosphere throughout, especially as the monsters emerge and can be construed as a manifestation of Aubrey’s personal demons. Even though Grace hardly appears, her presence demands to be felt through the silence, the pets she left behind and her personality-soaked apartment.

Aubrey connects to Grace through her mixtapes which explain the mysterious signal that brings about the end of days and how it can hopefully be stopped. The sci-fi elements aren’t a major strength narratively, but they remain interesting. The film shares a similar idea to A Quiet Place with the sudden appearance of strange monsters, yet they are carried out in completely different ways.

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The arrival of the apocalypse in Starfish (2018) – Source: 1091/Yellow Veil Pictures

Starfish has a very wonderful atmosphere – it’s calming yet often alarming, but it works together alongside its blend of genres and beautiful camera work. It creates a very specific world and the soundtrack only helps to further bring it to life. As well as writing, directing and executive producing, White also composed the score and chose the other music that features in the film. As a musician himself (in the band Ghostlight), his passion for music and style has paid off.

The film’s strengths lie in its emotive atmosphere and captivating cinematography. In addition to its mix of genres, Starfish also features a beautiful animated sequence. It’s an ambitious but seamless blend of creativity that comes together to create a unique experience. Every part of the film’s production plays an imperative role – if one area failed, then the film overall would not be anywhere near as effective as it is.

Starfish is a visually stunning debut that explores themes of grief in unusual but rewarding ways. White promises that all money made from the film will be donated to Cancer Research, a generous decision likely due to the fact Starfish is based on his own experiences of grief. White is someone to keep a close eye on. He’s currently in the middle of developing numerous feature-length projects, one of which is described as an elegant 70s infused slasher.

Starfish is now available on VOD in the US, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand.

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