Every now and then, a film comes along that sets the underground film community abuzz. “Hereditary” and “Get Out” did that in past years, though on a much bigger scale. But “Starfish” has been talked about in whispers of amazement ever since its debut at Fantastic Fest 2018 (in itself a feat for any film). As the film reaches VOD this week, how does it stand up to a wider release? Let’s find out.
The story follows Aubrey, a radio DJ who must, at first, overcome the death of her friend, and then, the end of the world. As Aubrey breaks into her deceased friend Grace’s apartment to cope with the loss, a mixtape holds the key to the alien invasion that follows.
The first thing that strikes you when watching (or rather, experiencing) “Starfish”, are the aesthetics: A.T. White’s strong visual language and even stronger soundtrack casting (as I believe the music is as much of a character as Aubrey) make for an unforgettable impression that will long outlast most other films. Beautifully colored and creatively edited, “Starfish” is a triumph in cinematic visual and auditory beauty.
The equally potent metaphors for loss, regret, forgiveness and redemption are really the essence, the core of what makes “Starfish” work to the degree that it does. Should you approach this film as you would a regular, mainstream film, you’ll end up confused by its arbitrary obtuseness and open-ended nature. Therefore, if you hark for a more traditional movie experience, I doubt that “Starfish” will have much to offer that other films won’t provide in a more cohesive, easy-to-digest package. If you’re into experimental films, from early George Lucas to Lars Von Trier, and even Darren Aronofsky, however, you’ll submerge yourself in the deep, deep pool of existential crisis that is A.T. White’s feature debut. Multiple dimensions and the end of the world come together to form a loose but compelling think-piece, if not one that will appeal to the wider, general public.
A personal niggle I have with the film, and this may just be with the screener copy I received, is that the loudness levels for the speech was way, way too low. Even with headphones, alone in my studio, I could barely make out some of the dialog. As a filmmaker myself, I can only assume that this was done both for artistic reasons (to accentuate the solemness of the situation), as well as to enhance the eventual playback of the songs featured in the mixtape. But it made for very difficult viewings, to the point where my initial session, where I wanted to watch it on the TV with my family (as I usually do when reviewing films), was a no-go: they couldn’t make out the dialog, and as there were no close-captions accompanying the review copy, I was left to decipher the thing on my own, later that night, in my studio. I wish they’d just put a limiter at the end of their timeline and brought the threshold to a point where it kept the artistic significance, while allowing for easier viewing, particularly for people with English as a second language.
In the end, the mystery of the creatures hunting (and haunting) Aubrey’s world, the trans-dimensional travel, the great editing and the masterful selection of tracks, all play together to make “Starfish” a strong, beautiful metaphor. It won’t be for everyone, and I must admit that I would have preferred an ending that was less open-ended, and a slightly louder voice track. But there’s no denying that A.T. White’s first opus deserves all the praises it’s getting, if not for its mainstream appeal, then for its artistic, moral and philosophical merit.