Thanks to my good pal Kieron, who recommended it to me, I was able to find and watch this odd combination of genres titled Starfish: an American film that premiered at a few festivals last year and, on March 15th, had a limited theatrical release in the States.
Now the movie is available worldwide on VOD, where I’d recommend watching it either on iTunes or Google Plus, as those versions are the best from what I understood.
Although Starfish is labelled as a ‘drama, horror, sci-fi’ movie, it also features animated elements, ‘coming-of-age’ type themes, quirky comedic sequences and a lot more. The story is simple but immediately effective: a girl (Aubrey, played by Virginia Gardner) has just lost her best friend and, the day after the funeral, she wakes up to a scenario that might as well signify the end of the world!
A.T. White, who wrote, directed and scored (!) this indie film as a first-timer did an absolutely outstanding job in every department. In fact, Starfish is a great movie where story, visuals and the way certain themes are dealt with work altogether to provide a unique and mesmerising viewing experience.
Somewhat reminiscent of the indie horror films directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, Starfish perfectly blends elements of realistic grief and loss with a dreamy, sometimes surreal tone.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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From the get-go, the cinematography feels like a feast to the eyes: it’s very stylised, with the reliance on washed-out colours that gives the film a delicate vibe that is very much in contrast with the themes of this picture and with the spooky sequences. Some of those (one of which happens in a very formulaic and annoying dream-sequence) are subtly eerie and unsettling, whereas others rely on more traditional techniques like jump-scares and music cues. Whatever the case, they work due to how well-made Starfish is and how compelling the main character is.
Speaking of the production values of this fantastic film, director A.T. White said “it’s well under a million” dollars. If you’ve seen it, or if you’ll watch it in the future, this claim will probably leave you speechless: Starfish truly looks like a multi-million-dollar picture due to the great craft that was put into the visuals. Yet, surprisingly the movie relies quite a bit on CGI, which is so well implemented into sets and locations that it feels seamlessly realistic. Computer generated images are, in this film, utilised in pivotal moments and for horrific scenes, but they don’t distract you for a split second: they’re constantly rendered to perfection. The only way one could tell Starfish is an indie, low-budget movie, is the lack of characters and the small set of locations.
In fact, the movie centres around Aubrey, who takes up the vast majority of screen time. Her character is rich, sympathetic and complex, but she’s also quite resourceful and easy to relate to. The script did a great job with the main character, but Virginia Gardner really sells the performance with her understated yet powerful acting.
Every aspect of Starfish, though, serves as an addition to the focal point, which is the mystery aspect of it all, with its deeply metaphorical meaning. Starfish is like a puzzle where, through visual storytelling (there’s no lame exposition to be found here!) the viewer is asked to put the pieces together. At the end, there might be some missing pieces still, and here it’s when the audience need to think about what they just witnessed and try to interpret the film. I do believe this picture, with its obscure and open-to-interpretation ending, has a multi-layered explanation that demands an effort from the viewer.
The score is also worth mentioning, as it plays such a crucial role in the narrative. Whether it’s background music (always fitting) or songs with lyrics that represent what’s happening on screen, the score for Starfish is astounding, especially if we consider that it plays almost constantly but it’s never distracting: it truly implements the visuals.
Aside from the dream-sequence I mentioned before, my only other complaints with the movie are quite minute. For example, during the first act Starfish relied quite a bit on out-of-focus shots, while the rest of the film seems to abandon that technique. There’s also a-few-minute-long animated sequence that, while impressive on a technical level, feels visually detached from the remaining of the picture. That’s it!
A.T. White created an impressive debut feature film that’s powerful, touching, unsettling, depressing and somewhat light-hearted at the same time. Though this is not a movie for everyone (I can see the average horror fan calling this boring, which is a pity), I would strongly advise people who have an affinity to my taste to watch it as soon as possible. It’ll also please those of you who are looking for original, unconventional filmmaking or fans of slow-burners.
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