Movie Review CIFF43: Starfish

By Alex Gehrlein ’19

Going into this film, I didn’t know exactly what I was expecting. I’d seen the trailer for weeks at the Cleveland Cinematheque, and was intrigued by the visual style the clips presented. That being said, I knew next to nothing about the plot and was a bit surprised when I saw it to find there was much more heart and depth to the film than the picturesque sci-fi shots I’d seen might imply.

Starfish is the directorial debut of A.T. White, a UK born musician turned filmmaker, whose visual flair and stylistic decisions elevate this movie above its premise. The film follows Aubrey (Virginia Gardner), a young woman who has recently lost her best friend, Grace (Christina Masterson). We start on the day of Grace’s funeral. Aubrey retreats from the ceremony to her best friend’s apartment, located above the cafe she used to run. Through quiet, calculated moments, the audience is clued in to what exactly is going on here, and who these characters are. This quieter section is when Starfish is at its strongest, giving a gripping portrayal of grief that uses symbolically loaded imagery to affect the audience. If the film had simply followed from there, keeping to the apartment and telling the story in this much subtler way, it could have been brilliant. I’m not necessarily disappointed with the direction it goes in so much as I see a film that could have meant more buried underneath.

Where it does go is still impressive though. While Aubrey mourns in the apartment, a fresh blanket of snow covers the town; the apocalypse is on. To reveal too much would be a bit unfair, as the film does do a good job of moving forward through unexpected developments in this passage, but a brief summary is probably necessary. Aubrey is sent on a quest to locate mixtapes spread all throughout the town, which are somehow related to this disaster she’s found herself in. Moments of meta-commentary come out of left field, and I can’t decide whether it’s for better or for worse; their inclusion gives the film an even deeper layer of meaning, while also bringing things to a halt for a few moments and pulling you out of the film (though from what I can gather, this might be intentional).

As a whole, Starfish is impressive. There’s more I would have liked to see, but enough there to be worth checking it out. I hope A.T. White is given more to work with the next time around, and look forward to whatever he does in the future.

Starfish screens at the Cleveland International Film Festival on April 5th at 2:10 PM and April 6th at 7:35 PM.