The road to emotional healing is fraught with monsters in this meditative cosmic sci-fi-horror.
A girl. A mixtape. And the end of the world. It’s a fitting tagline for Starfish, a dreamy indie “cosmic horror” that serves as a meditation on grief, trauma, and the power of music/art to heal.
Virginia Gardner plays Aubrey, a woman whose once-close friend, Grace (Christina Masterson), has just died. After the funeral, Aubrey pays a visit to the small mountain town where Grace had been living, and breaks into her apartment. But upon waking the next morning, Aubrey discovers the world has become inhabited by alien monsters and most of the people in it have disappeared. On the brink of the Apocalypse, Aubrey may still have a chance to save the world, and herself, but it’s all tied to a mixtape, a mysterious signal and a series of clues that only she can unravel. As an isolated Aubrey searches for the truth, she becomes withdrawn from reality, drifting in and out of dreams and memories and finding it harder and harder to distinguish if the monsters are real or just in her head.
Starfish relies a good deal on Virginia Gardner’s magnetic performance to carry the film, as a lot of the screen time is filled with Aubrey alone, wordlessly reacting to her stark new surroundings, listening to music, reflecting, searching for clues and signs of life (and fending off the occasional alien monster).
The music also plays a starring role, as the string-heavy score and indie-rock soundtrack are heavily intertwined with the plot-line and its’ central themes. Director A.T. White has called Starfish a “deeply personal” film, so it makes sense that he also not only wrote and produced it, but scored it and selected all the songs. Music is clearly an important part of his life and of this, his debut feature, where it serves as both a bridge to the past and a means of salvation for the present.
Another striking element of the film is how visually arresting it is. Soft lighting, thoughtful production design and impressive VFX combine to create a dreamlike (and at times, nightmarish) palette that’s just plain pretty to look at.
As a whole, Starfish is an interesting movie, atmospheric, genre-blending, quiet, contemplative, and ultimately, surprisingly affecting. It’s a little bit Stranger Things meets Mandy meets Twin Peaks: The Return meets A Ghost Story meets 13 Reasons Why.
While it has certainly has elements of sci-fi and horror, Starfish leans a bit more into mood and introspection. It feels less like a horror film and more like a trippy session at a new-age therapy spa, albeit a haunting one.
In the end, you may not be quite sure you understand exactly what happened, but that might not stop you from working through some of your own trauma, facing a few of your own monsters, and maybe even finding some healing of your own.
Rating: 3.75 / 5
Starfish arrives on VOD May 28th.