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Review: Starfish – “An apocalypse the likes of which you have never seen before”

Written and directed by A.T. White – who is also credited with the score, creature design and editing – Starfish stars Virginia Gardner (Halloween) and Christina Masterson (Power Rangers Megaforce), and is released on VOD/digital in the US, UK, Austrailia, New Zealand and Canada on the 28th of May.

Ex-local radio DJ, Aubrey Parker (Gardner) returns to her left-behind snowy small town for the funeral of her friend and lover Grace (Masterson). Having cheated on Grace while she was terminally ill and then fled, Aubrey is utterly consumed by grief and guilt and after the service breaks into Grace’s bar slash apartment.

The next day Aubrey awakes to find the power is out, there’s smoke on the horizon and everyone has disappeared. Upon investigating, she is attacked by a razor-toothed monster and retreats to Grace’s. Over a walkie-talkie, a mysterious stranger tells her that the creatures have come through dimensional gateways that can be opened and closed by certain sound frequencies and that Grace was researching this before she died.

Armed with a tape deck and Grace’s pet turtle Bellini, Aubrey sets out on a mission to search her and Grace’s old haunts in town for hidden cassettes containing songs that when played in the right order form a mixtape that will close the cosmic doors and kill all the Lovecraftian creatures.

White unspools Starfish with the focus on Aubrey, and with doomsday happening in the background. Aubrey’s emotional devastation is front and centre and Gardner’s portrayal of a crushed guilt-stricken woman slowly finding purpose through the quest, and restoration through the songs that Grace recorded and hid for her is heartbreaking and carries the entire film.

The mixtape songs are haunting and infectious indie folk selections from the likes of Sigur Rós and Grandaddy and the ‘listening’ sequences beautifully and accurately capture the transportive and healing power of music. The soundtrack also features an excellent strings-centric score which adds a danger and urgency that balances out Aubrey’s melancholy and internalisation.

This central sadness could easily make for a dull and meditative film, but White has an exciting and sometimes experimental visual style that mixes beautiful compositions, fantastically rendered environmental and creature effects, an eye for small details that feel important and keep you drawn into the film’s mystery, and even a jaw-dropping animated sequence, to create an apocalypse the likes of which you have never seen before.

Starfish is a haunting and hypnotic film. It’s a transcendent and transdimensional story about making peace with yourself, forgiving and forgetting, and that sometimes when something feels like the end of the world – it really is.

Starfish is out in the UK on 28th May 2019.

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