When director AT White says that Starfish, his latest film, is based on a true story, you may not expect gates to some hell-like dimension and horrifying creatures. On the other hand, when real life smacks you in the face, it can often like the end of the world. In White’s film, Aubrey (Virginia Gardner of Halloween 2019 and Marvel’s The Runaways) breaks into the home of her recently deceased best friend to discover a mysterious mixtape. From that moment, we are taken on a journey where fact and fiction are blurred – we share in Aubrey’s journey of pain, trauma, and, perhaps, some healing.
Sound plays a vital role in this film. Sometimes, it is quiet and serene. Other times, it is soundtracked by stellar indie rock and pop tunes. And, yet others, there is a beautiful score behind the scenes. No matter the moment, the sound feels deliberate and exquisitely planned out. Deafening silence gives way to the perfect song, before the silence eventually creeps back in. If not the most impressive thing about this film, the sound design is certainly up there among the top.
The other incredible standout here is the way Virginia Gardner is able to be the only human being on screen throughout 90% of the film without becoming dull or lackluster. She is captivating throughout – whether she’s laying in contemplation or immersed in a horrifying nightmare. She has an incredible and emotionally complex presence throughout the film. Her raw talent and beauty is on display here; it truly elevates the film to the point that it’s hard to imagine this film working the same way with another actress in the role.
This is part genre film and part art film. It is part horror film and part coming of age story. This movie is contemplative. This movie is intense. This movie is quiet. However, in moments, the movie can be loud. It’s an experience that can’t be summed up in mere words. The metaphor, the mixtapes, the sorrow, the pain – Starfish is nothing if not a visceral experience of love and loss.