CERT: 15 | DIRECTOR: A.T. WHITE | SCREENPLAY: A.T. WHITE | STARRING: VIRGINIA GARDNER, CHRISTINA MASTERSON, ERIC BEECROFT, NATALIE MITCHELL, SHANNON HOLLANDER | RELEASE DATE: MAY 28TH
A.T. White’s feature debut has more than a morsel of 13 Reasons Why about it. Just as in Netflix’s divisive series, Starfish sees Aubrey (Gardner) uncovering tapes that reveal more details as each one is found. The tapes left behind by Aubrey’s recently deceased best friend. Except here, these hold clues not to personal traumas but to a signal which has opened a portal to another dimension. This portal has allowed monsters to bring a violent end to ordinary life, and Aubrey learns that the tapes may be key in stopping them.
Starfish disavows jump scares in favour of a lingering unease that catalyses almost every situation. It never reaches a fever pitch but instils a dread for what just might happen, as all good horrors should. What you will notice amidst the creepiness is the sound design and score, which is incredible. These haunting noises burrow deep into your bones and transform ordinary darkened rooms into reluctantly navigated nightmares, forever having you worried that something nasty is inevitable.
Typically a slow burner, Starfish spends a long time focusing on its lead character (played with grounded realism by Gardner). White’s script could have done with spending some time clarifying the context, but very clear is how the wider world falling prey to monsters provides scope for exploring Aubrey’s guilt and loss. It is this interesting character study that helps to fuel Starfish’s story and help make the film feel like it matters.
Which is just as well, because the wider plot is difficult to feel truly engaged in. So little is revealed throughout the film that it is hard to get invested in what Aubrey is trying to stop. You spend too much time trying to work out what has happened, which is never really spat out with the simplicity that it needs, and it is hard to get a sense of global disaster when the action is limited to one sleepy, snow-covered town. Towards the end, the film tries to get a bit too clever, and it is very easy to zone out entirely, not helped by a script that suffers from the odd dialogue hiccup and some strange choices. One-sided conversations with a tortoise, a great film does not make.
Starfish’s potential is tangible but almost wasted by not clearly setting priorities for itself. It spends far too long focusing on the initial mundanity of Aubrey’s existence and not enough time on what actually happens to the world. Conversely, Aubrey’s character would be interesting enough to keep the film going all on its own, but instead the story feels laden with poorly explained extra details. White’s film is interesting and unique with enough tension to keep things moving, but will leave you more confused than enthralled.