STARFISH: Lovecraft love letter and the art of soundtrack-based horror


STARFISH is a quiet, post-apocalyptic, cosmic horror film following lone survivor, Aubrey (Virginia Gardner), as she grieves the death of her best friend.

It’s hard to describe STARFISH in mere words when the film itself is almost purely evoked through music. It’s the story of a young woman named Aubrey, played by a stellar Virginia Gardner who manages to carry the entire film on her own, who is struggling to grapple with the death of her best friend, Grace.

She makes a home for herself in Grace’s apartment and upon waking up from a nap, Aubrey finds the entire world has ended over night. It would appear she is a lone survivor in a post-apocalyptic, snow blanketed wasteland with monsters on the prowl.

The only clue Aubrey has is a mixtape labeled, “this mixtape will save the world”, left behind to her by Grace. She must embark on her final adventure with her best friend. Specific sound waves are the only known method of fending off the monsters, as they try to break through their dimension into Aubrey’s world. To stop them, she has to follow Grace’s clues and find the other tapes to assemble them and close the doors to the other world before it’s too late.

STARFISH marks director A.T. White’s feature film debut and if this is any indication of the creative vitality and breathtakingly innovative method of storytelling we can expect from him, then I look forward to his future projects.

Pictured: Virginia Gardner – Photo Courtesy of Yellow Veil Pictures PR

What Makes STARFISH Such a Unique Experience?

Every film has a sensory acuity. Often times,  horror movies try to engage with your visual senses. They want to unsettle you through twisted imagery.

STARFISH depends on listening. In a way, it’s a spiritual successor to 2018’s A Quiet Place, except instead of navigating in the lack of sound, it basks in the specific ambience created by each song. Every scene uses sound or music to provide the backbone of a moment, whether it be through the sensation of radiating silence or the curation of the perfect song to echo the moment’s sentiment.

It’s impossible to dictate how music will affect any given individual, which is what makes something about STARFISH so deeply personal. It transcends and alters its form based on whose watching it, as if there is a parallel journey for the viewer to embark alongside Aubrey’s.

A Love Letter to Lovecraft

Given the film is specifically being marketed as a “cosmic horror” film, you can imagine how it pays homage to Lovecraft.

While not conventional by any means, the designs for the creatures offer plenty of body horror. But there is also something ethereal and admiring about how the cinematography captures these beasts. It forces the audience to look at the monstrosity that is grief in the face.

STARFISH  is clearly an intensely personal project from A.T. White and at times the intimacy of the movie can be, all at once, uncomfortable and riveting.

Aubrey’s journey is marked by the seven stages of grief, but it never feels like a choppy or rudimentary journey from stage to stage, instead the progression feels natural and organic.

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At the end of the day, STARFISH is an exceedingly ambitious film. It exists and thrives on its own rules and landscape design. Never does it waver from its established laws and creation. While you may expect a gimmicky twist, you won’t find that here. The strength of the film is in its directness and the bold ambition demonstrated by its director. It refuses to conform to genre expectations and is the better movie for it, even if some may be put off by its earnest vision.

That said, I wish this movie would have thrown out the dialogue altogether, or at least pared it down. The moments that didn’t work for me were generally due to over-explanatory monologuing from the protagonist. And I could have done without the strange sub-plot surrounding Aubrey’s ex. It’s as if White didn’t believe the relationship between Aubrey and Grace could merit the profound loss Aubrey experiences alone and he needed to add additional trauma. If STARFISH were a slightly more confident film, it would truly soar.

But the brilliance of STARFISH is in its simplicity. How does the film make you feel? Because it will make you feel. Sometimes, that’s all you need a film to make you do.

Grade: B+

Starfish Trailer from Yellow Veil Pictures on Vimeo.

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Virginia Gardner currently stars Karolina Dean in Marvel’s Runaways, now streaming on Hulu. Her upcoming projects include All the Bright Places, co-starring Elle Fanning, and Liked, co-starring Alycia Debnam-Carey.

STARFISH is coming to select theaters across the US beginning March 13th and will be available on VOD May 28th.