Howdy y’all! I just had the opportunity to see A.T. White’s feature film debut STARFISH, and I am happy to report that I absolutely loved this movie! Check out the trailer:
Having seen a handful of episodes of Hulu’s “Marvel’s Runaways”, I was already familiar with the film’s lead, Virginia Gardner, though I had reservations. Her character is probably the least developed in the series (as far as I am into it, that is), so I haven’t seen her showcase much. Just a pretty persona that she broadcasts to the larger world while she broods in private. That brooding is great homework for this project though, as the general message of the film is loss and isolation.
Aubrey has lost her closest friend Grace, and goes (quite literally) out of her way to grieve her. She escapes the bustle of her wake and slips away to break into Grace’s apartment and share that space with her memories. She lives in her clothes, cares for her pets, and listens to her cassette tapes. It is the latter that spins the film into the more metaphysical aspects of grief and quarantine.
The film has been categorized as drama, horror, sci-fi, and (my favorite) “cosmic horror”, and it has aspects of all these genres. STARFISH is a film of unmistakable beauty and lyrical poignance, showcasing stunning imagery perfectly paired with an aching score. Aubrey’s journey through the apocalypse that springs up overnight is lovingly photographed in equal portions of long shots that convey her isolation and tight close-ups giving us view of the claustrophobia into which her grief has thrust her. She spends a good portion of her outdoor scenes in a wolf fur, complete with a headpiece fashioned from its head, giving her a ghastly, monstrous appearance in the white snow. As Lovecraftian monsters surround her, it is but a mirror of herself she sees, as her grief is compounded by a deep guilt for sins against Grace for which she can no longer receive absolution.
The monsters are gloriously realized, though one can’t help but compare them to Marvel’s Venom Symbiotes and the creatures from A QUIET PLACE. At one point we even get a great shot of a lumbering giant creature, which is more of what we saw in the third act of THE MIST or Gareth Edwards’ MONSTERS. This is not a criticism, mind you, merely an observation.
The journey the film takes with music and the theme of self-imposed quarantine are gorgeously rendered. When one sees the text “Based on a true story” during the opening titles they may scoff at the incredulity of the claim but it’s genuine. White has mined his own personal loss to make this film, and though the creation on the screen has elements of fantasy and horror and science fiction, the character’s journey is quite real. It’s that hyperbolic sense of loss that makes one shut out the world and welcome the apocalypse; to genuinely yearn for the rest of the world to fall away so that one can grieve properly. To be alone with memories, a soundtrack of a life lived together. To confront the monsters of regret and missed opportunities, missteps and steps not taken. Let the world burn while diving deep into the despair of a lost love. Anyone who has lost someone close can relate to this desire.
Not content to bewilder us with sublime photography and monsters alone, White adds a metaphysical mind fuck of memory tripping into the plot. As Aubrey collects the cassettes left by Grace around their small town and loses herself in the music, she transcends time and space, giving the viewer some genuine thrills along the way. An extended animated sequence from Tezuka Productions, the team behind ASTRO BOY, is particularly touching. At one point, there is a fourth wall break that I don’t want to spoil but it is some mind-bending Charlie Kaufman shit that I was not expecting at 2am and three whiskeys in.
The music is stellar, from both the selection of licensed music (I've been a Sparklehorse fan for over 20 years) and the original score composed by White. And it should be: Al White is the frontman of UK Indie band Ghost Light, which I will go on record as saying is worth checking out. The score was made in a stunningly short period of time, and then processed to fit the journey of the film. White purposefully destroyed elements of the piano tone on early tracks in the film so that it would sound clearer and more natural as the film progressed and Aubrey took further steps through her recollections and personal growth.
I cannot praise this film highly enough. Gardner carries it with deft gravitas, the director of photography Alberto Banares captures it all with clarity and poetry, and White’s bare soul is a revelation of bravery and camaraderie. STARFISH is a personal examination of the power of love and a universally raw deconstruction of the apocalyptic horror of loss.
STARFISH, from Yellow Veil Pictures with distribution by The Orchard, begins its limited theatrical run on March 13th, 2019.
Until then, see you at the movies!
-McEric, aka Eric McClanahan-